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November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is really the holiday of Yankee Tirade, so I thought I would numb you with some trivia first. Abraham Lincoln started Thanksgiving as a holiday in 1863, it was a jab at Virginia for leaving the Union.

I spoke with old friend Aaron Pratt today and that reminded me he had written something on the old blog a few years back.

Mayflower Connection:

It's very cool studying where you come from, my genes walked off a ship called The Sparrow, fought off starvation and killed a few Indians to ensure the survival of European gene pool in the US, this man was Phineous Pratt and his first hand narrative gives you a feel of how harsh it was back then for your ancestors and mine Chris: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/prattphineasnarrative.htm

Phineous was kind of an early paul revere, if he didn't run and warn the larger settlement of the indians plan to kill them all in their weakness the story might have turned out different and my family (and yours?) surely would not exist today.

The interesting thing is that there was so few of us who survived those early stages of settlement that you might find that we all are somehow related and if not genetically we were most likely friends and neighbors back then...well our genes were unless you believe in spirit. :)

Extremely interesting stuff Chris, history bored me in high school, guess I had to make the connection on my own, how about you? :)


November 21, 2008

Gulf War Syndrome

The syndrome was caused by soldiers' widespread exposure to pesticides and the drug pyridostigmine bromide, meant to protect against nerve gas, the panel suggests.  Low-level exposures to nerve agents, smoke from oil well fires, vaccines, and other neurotoxic agents may also have contributed.

That is an excerpt from the Novemeber 20, 2008 Chicago Tribune article on their blog.

Anyone that was over there realized something screwed up happened and those afflicted were neglected and abused by the Department of Veterans Affairs for over a decade. It is good news that we can finally get on with this and try to fix the damage.

I myself have run into problems over the years with the VA and federal law enforcement that only lead to further resolve to see the  truth get out. Patrick Eddington was really the leader of this charge and deserves the credit. His book Gassed in the Gulf was an inspiration to many and showed the personal courage he had in taking on the system to ensure the little man was not forgotten.

We now are seven years into this war, and lets hope nothing similar arise from this one.

November 19, 2008

The Guard and Homeland Security

The need to combine the Department of Homeland Defense and the National Guard Bureau  is now more important than ever. When the War on Terror started in 2001 many quick measures were taken to ensure the security of America was done as quickly as possible. This lead to some hasty decisions that need rethinking.

The National Guard Bureau is the clear choice to take over the functions of homeland defense. The Guard is the oldest military formation in this country and is the best situated in the public eye to take on the security role that many in this nation truly do not understand. The Department of Homeland Security and United States Northern Command are performing the same function.

Law enforcement has become more organized in the last 30 years to the point it is now an armed force. That means it needs say in how operations are conducted, and this can be done by representation  of the National Guard. The Chief of the Guard Bureau needs to have a seat at the table for the Joint Chiefs of Staff so that this message can be spread and analyzed correctly.

This would not really affect the make up of the Guard because for anyone who has been in it knows many are already in law enforcement and public safety roles on the outside anyways. It is time to streamline the system, and using the Guard as part of defense planning is now more important than ever.

November 15, 2008

True Poverty


By Jeff Benitz 

You have not seen true poverty unless you have been outside the United States. Because of the nature of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) operations at sea, it often means their ships pull into isolated ports for replenishment and equipment transfer. These are not the ports of cruise ships or tourism. Likewise the ships operate solo, like a Nantucket whale ship in the 17th century. Most Navy military ships operate in fleets with support and berth in well-frequented ports where lots of sailors are to be found. WHOI’s Navy ships have small crews and small ports.
Most of the world’s shipping is to transport goods from one place to the next. Most Naval work is to do the same or patrol. It is rare a Navy ship dawdles around alone on the high seas and wanders into ports where no one else goes. Sometimes the ports are one-horse towns. When I speak to friends who have served on Navy ships, they speak of very different experiences. Imagine a fleet unloading 10,000 people in a port? At WHOI there may be five seamen on “liberty” to head into town.
On The Street
Though I had seen varying degrees of poverty in the United States and over seas, I had never seen true poverty until I hit a third world country. The first, “heads up” is arriving in a port where under the standard quarantine a whole variety of inoculations or vaccines are required: Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, Malaria, Typhoid, Diphtheria, and so forth. You know you are headed into filth. Poverty and filth seem to go together. According to the U.N. (September 2007) nearly half the world’s population, 40%, roughly 2.6 billion people do not have flush toilets. Water is always the problem, especially contaminated water. People who have managed to live in such an environment have totally conditioned immune systems.
Though a buddy system is recommended I often headed off the pier alone. One gets tired of the same folks month after month, and near the Equator the furnace like air seems fresh compared to the cramped cabins of the ship. In a poor town trash is everywhere and people live on the dirt streets. There are the hucksters who see the ship come in and have something to sell or barter. Their clothes are dirty and they grin with no teeth. They are young.
There is also no lack of modesty. It’s not uncommon in South Boston to see a man peeing on the sidewalk but in these ports they squat and deposit right out in the open where others sleep. During the day or night people are just laying on the ground, ribs showing, with no energy or purpose to stand up. It looks like there is dog s*** everywhere. Parents with young children start pushing them into the road to hound and beg for coins. They pull at your clothes and are hard to shake off. If they don’t get any money they get a beating. Soon the 12-year-old girls begin to follow you, trying to make conversation and walk along with you, hoping to sell themselves for dollars U.S. That’s when it’s time to get moving because you can see in the shadows thugs/pimps/fathers/mothers observing their success. If you don’t take up an offer their likely to kill you for good measure. They take it as an insult to their girl.
There was one time a man came out of a doorway and started shouting at me and following me because I rejected his young girl, he started calling to other people on the road who started to appear. He was saying I thought I was too good for his girl. I didn’t think this was the time for a discussion on class warfare or economic injustice so I ran away, fast, for about a mile. None of them had cars, phones, or electricity. I waited until after dark to stealthily skulk through the neighborhood back to the ship.
The same day, I passed up a street vendor who was selling Coca-Cola in plastic bags. They get the syrup somewhere and mix it with the local water and sell it in a bag that looks like something your newspaper would come in, tied at the top. Everything is for sale to the American. The older, scab covered prostitutes offer themselves, but no one takes umbrage when you reject them. I don’t think they work for anyone anymore.
When I talk about the incredible filth associated with poverty there is also the crime. There are pickpockets and muggers everywhere. The street vendors will try to cheat you. They have signals they give to others on the street if you flash money. If you’re dumb enough to pull out a $20 U.S. bill for something you are most likely dead.
At The Bar
Usually, the bar is what a sailor seeks when on land. That is an equally impoverished area. Often the bars don’t have refrigeration so beer is kept in ice buckets. That’s no good. The medical officer who gives the shots will tell you not to eat local food or drink local water when off the ship. What some people don’t think about is bottled beer from a reputable company is still poisonous if it is chilled in local ice. The lip of a can or bottle can be contaminated. Never get a mixed drink with ice, the alcohol does not sterilize on that level. It’s back to the water thing.
In the bathroom of some bars I have seen more dung heaped up on the floor than I have seen in neglected horse stalls back at home. Bathrooms where the water hasn’t worked for quite some time. And back to the crime situation, there are those who wait in bars to attack a tipsy sailor, later. One time, some shipmates showed back up in a state of agitation. They were at a bar on the patio and as they looked out on the street two men came out of a building arguing. One pulled out a pistol and shot the man dead on the street. The shooter walked away and they watched as the blood puddled on the road until it stopped like a fried egg. Three hours later the police showed up, threw the carcass in the pick-up and drove off. No questions.
In such areas the police aren’t much better off than the public. A good indicator you are in an area that is bad is the police travel in pick-up trucks in groups of eight; two in the cab and six in the open bed of the truck. Five in the bed will have M-16 rifles and one a pump shotgun. More than once I know shipmates who have been shaken down by such police and left practically in their underwear.
On The Watch
I Reflected on some of these experiences and images as I was holding the 24:00 to 08:00 security watch for the ship. There is only one officer and one seaman for the watch and the officer is on call. So, I stood alone in the dark overlooking the pier. During the night, different stragglers walked down the pier to look at our trash in the dumpster. Some fought over crummy mattresses we had thrown out, others were happy to take discarded paint cans that could be cut and flattened into metal for shingles on some shanty. Others, just the plastic trash bags were cover.
Late into the night a pack of wild dogs found the dumpster. They were all half starved, mixed breeds, and sized from small to large. It almost looked like a Disney movie but the humor was lacking. They gathered in packs as an instinctual thing and warred over scraps in a pecking order leaving clumps of hair to blow away with the wind.
The rat guards held up well. They are 24” discs placed over the hawsers to prevent rats from climbing the lines and getting on the ship. The rats were running around but they didn’t make the noise that was most disturbing. The pier was covered with cockroaches. They came out in armies, some were 2” in size. There were so many cockroaches that you could HEAR them shuffling along the pier. It was a ticking, crinkly sound that in mass almost made a hiss. You could see what looked like cloud shadows move.
Two late arrivals at the ship remarked that you could follow their footprints back all the way to shore, left by the crushed bugs. They said it was like walking on cornflakes the whole way up. There are times a sailor likes to pull anchor and head to sea. By morning, the overflowing dumpster was empty.
So the next time someone tells you they are in “survival mode” because they can only afford basic cable TV, or they can only go to MacDonald’s with the kids once a week, tell them to travel outside the U.S. From what I have seen, true poverty is: death, dying, sickness, starvation, and filth.

November 13, 2008

Bretton Woods

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.

In July 1944 at a hotel resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire the world’s basis for international trade was determined at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference. This was the outcome of the allied powers all having been through the Great Depression and wishing to prevent a reoccurrence.

One of the key points to the conference was the establishment of the International Monetary Fund. The Fund was developed to stabilize exchange rates and create a pool of money for countries to borrow from when they had payment imbalances from more money leaving the country than being brought in. This was created to try and reestablish international trade that had been damaged by war. Many claim it causes more damage than good, and at times can be viewed as a form on monetary colonialism.

The other institution that came out of  the conference was the World Bank. It has changed its focus several times since its inception but started out to rebuild France after the war until the Marshall Plan took that role over. It also has been  involved in poverty reduction for many years. The Bank now focuses  helping countries develop a strategy to become self sufficient and economically viable for foreign investment. It also has been  viewed as a form of monetary imperialism at times.


Can we still afford this? 

November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Since today is Veterans Day I thought I would spotlight the two National Guard units that deployed and fought in Vietnam from New England. They are a forgotten part of New England history but are really important.

The 131st Engineer Company was from the Vermont National Guard and served a year in Vietnam with no losses.  The Green Mountain Movers supported operations around Cam Rahn Bay.

The 3rd Battalion 197th Field Artillery was from the New Hampshire National Guard and had 6 members killed in its year in Vietnam. 5 on the last day in country by a landmine on the way to the airport. This unit supported operations near Saigon.

Remember that Veterans Day is for anyone who served while Memorial Day is for those who died in service.

November 10, 2008

10 November 2008

Rene Gagnon USMC

New Hampshire's Rene Gagnon was part of the 6 men that make up the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington D.C. based of the famous Rosenthal photo from the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Since today is the 10th of November , the official recognized birthday of the Marine Corps, I thought I would highlight Gagnon, a New England Yankee and fellow devil dog.

My favorite 10 November was three years ago when Master Gunnery Sergeant Frank Cordero retired with thirty years at Camp Lejune’s 2nd Tank Battalion.

Semper Fidelis Frank and Rene.

November 08, 2008

Open Letter To Applebee’s CEO

Open Letter To Applebee’s CEO

7 November 2008

Mr. Archer, President
Applebee’s Services, Inc.
Overland Park, Kansas

Dear Mr. Archer:

I understand Applebee's has a "Salute to the Veterans" on November 11, 2008. I do not see any participating restaurants from the state of Maine. In fact, there is NOT ONE Applebee's in the SIX New England states that participates in your, "Salute to the Veterans". There are 436 Applebee's restaurants in New England! In the United States there are more than 1600 Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar franchisees. If one does the math, more than 25% of your business is in the New England states.

I would remind you, Mr. Archer, that Maine has one of the highest number of veterans per capita in the United States.

Also, the Bangor airport is a hub where returning military personnel are greeted by retired military volunteers. It is the first time those fighting the current war (GWOT) land on U.S. soil after their tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. From Bangor they transport to their respective states or bases including Kansas.

Is this an oversight that Applebee’s does not salute in New England? Or, is Applebee's insincere and this is simply tokenism toward the veterans?

Very sincerely yours,

Jeff Benitz

Postscriptum: Of 8449 restaurants, if 163 are participating that means Applebee's has 1.92% of their businesses giving free meals to the troops. That is a lot of marketing for less than 2% of your locations. Who knows how many patrons would actually be veterans at those locations, lowering the number more. Looks like marketing exploitation to me.

November 07, 2008

The Guard and the JCS

During the campaign Joe Biden said he wanted to elevate the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to a four star position and place them on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I agree with that because the United States Army has said on several occasions that it does not want to institute the draft, so there has been heavy reliance on the Guard, Air and Army. They have been heavily burdened as a result.

The Guard has its own unique problems, but this war may have been very different had the Guard been given a say in how it should be approached. Remember the reluctance of the Guard during Vietnam was really a vote of no confidence on LBJ’s war plans. This was a powerful message that was discounted due to lack of influence in the joint planning process. This must not happen again.

The political structure of the National Guard is unique, it is part military unit, part fire rescue and part police in its workings. This also means that there needs to be an effort to reinstate funding to help form state guard units, formations with no federal obligation, in order to help in the loss of manpower as a result of deployment. The new 4 star chief would be able to help implement this.

Joe Biden has also said that United States Northern Command should also be controlled by the Guard, I agree with that as well. The majority of senior officers in the Guard have some form of  civil government experience, this is a skill set that could greatly enrich the war planning and defense mechanisms of this country.

It is going to be a time of change with this administration, lets take the military in a positive direction forward.


November 03, 2008

The Federal Reserve Bank?

Is it time to get rid of the Federal Reserve Bank? It has happened before.

The First Bank of the United States was the original central bank of new United States of America after the Revolution. Alexander Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury and want to establish a mint for coinage so as to implement a standard currency to assist in trade. This would also eliminate fiat currency, money with no backing, and allow credit lines to be established for domestic and overseas business to do trade with.

The new central bank also had the ability to impose excise tax, primarily on alcohol, and led to the Whiskey Rebellion. The North was all for the central bank due to the nature of its trade based economy with Europe but the South was opposed as it had no need. It was chartered from 1791 to 1811 and was dissolved only to have something similar brought back several years later.

Designed on the pattern of the First United States Bank the Second United States Bank was formed to help finance the government after the War of 1812. As result of the debt incurred from the war, many private banks began issuing to much local money and created hyper inflation.

The bank lent money to just about anyone to buy farm land due to war in Europe ruining its agriculture. This caused massive bank fraud due to no self regulation on the 2nd Bank. When the bank finally policed itself it lead to the Panic of 1819.

Under President Andrew Jackson money from the treasury would be withdrawn and placed in privately held institutions. This led to the 2nd Bank losing influence and eventually closing when it charter was not renewed. It lasted from 1816 until 1836 as a federally sanctioned entity and continued on for a few years as a private one until 1841.

November 01, 2008

Earl Henry Sholley

Well, there is another race to be considered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Earl Henry Sholley  is contesting Barney Frank. His main issue is the economy and he feels he has some better ideas on how to repair this damage done to the American way of banking.

The other issue that appeals to me is his attacking fatherlessness in this country.

First off let me say that I do not care that Barney Frank is gay, I am a Republican and feel at this point anyone willing to step up to the plate for the Party of Lincoln in Ted Kennedy’s Court should at least get considered.

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