Thursday, July 30, 2009

Introduction to Three Notes on Budgetary Priorities

At the time that my university system faces almost half a billion dollars (yes, with a B) in budget cuts, I have felt the need to rant about budget priorities. As Joseph Schumpeter wrote: "the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies."

People outside of California could not possibly comprehend the perverted logic of our prison system, which consumes more of the budget than state support of higher education. The number of public needs that deserve serious funding is enormous. The most ridiculous waste of money is the military.

I intended to write today about the military budget, going beyond Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes's estimate of the $3 trillion dollar war, looking at the harm done to and by veterans, over and above the medical costs that Stiglitz and Bilmes count.

I had planned to begin with Dave Philipps' articles on the how the war experience has screwed up soldiers' minds. He documents a rash of murders occurred near Fort Carson, Colorado. The murderers are from a small unit that experienced exceptionally heavy fighting and casualties. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to hear Philipps interviewed on Democracy Now, going into more detail.
The next note will point to the problem of homelessness among veterans.

The final note will note the recent discovery that Agent Orange did more harm to veterans health than previously recognized. I suspect that more information about Gulf War Syndrome will trickle in.

The point is not that veterans should be the highest budgetary priority. Social spending needs of all kinds go unmet.

Besides, the easiest policy to reduce the kind of costs noted here is to avoid fighting wars. (Has any empire ever been involved in so many foreign conflicts?)

Even so, the hypocrisy of supposed reverence for veterans in the face of the neglect of their needs is worthy of note. Just as much policy is designed to protect the fetus and then shortchange the kids, the country pours money into high tech military hardware, applauds the soldiers, then ignores the damage done to the veterans.

First Note:
Philipps, Dave. 2009. "Casualties of War, Part I: The Hell of War Comes Home." Colorado Springs Gazette (26 July).

The series discusses: Army unit whose members have been accused of at least 10 murders in the past several years highlights the risks of prolonged warfare.

"In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs. In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street. In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people. In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death. Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the "Lethal Warriors.

Second Note:
Eckholm, Erik. 2009. "For Veterans, a Weekend Pass From Homelessness." New York Times (26 July): p. A 13.

"The future mix of homeless veterans was signaled here last weekend at Stand Down, an annual three-day tent city that provides respite and aid to former members of the armed forces whose lives have collapsed. The number of homeless veterans who made their way to a high school's athletic fields for the gathering reached a record high, some 950 compared with last year's record of 830. The job-devouring recession is pushing up the numbers, but organizers said they were also starting to see younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some with traumatic brain injuries or psychological stresses, who had fallen through the safety nets with unusual speed."

"According to V.A. estimates, the overall number of homeless veterans declined in recent years, from about 250,000 who lacked shelter at some point in 2006 to perhaps 200,000 last year. The share of women is climbing, and while they account for 4 percent of all homeless veterans, they make up 9 percent of those under 45, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless programs at the department. The agency has so far detected about 3,700 homeless veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with one million troops now home from these regions and more returning every week, Mr. Dougherty said, that figure is sure to climb. In an ominous harbinger, a recent study found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who enrolled in the veterans' health system since 2001 had already displayed post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or other mental health problems."

Third Note:
Lorber, Janie. 2009. "Report Sees Agent Orange Link to More Illnesses." New York Times (25 July): p. A 12.

"An expert panel reported on Friday that two more diseases may be linked to exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the American military during the Vietnam War. People exposed to the chemical appear, at least tentatively, to be more likely to develop Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease, according to the report. The report was written by a 14-member committee charged by the Institute of Medicine with determining whether certain medical conditions were caused by exposure to herbicides used to clear stretches of jungle."

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