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Jihadists in America

When will the officials finally announce we have jihadists in the US?

We have witnessed years of domestic terrorist attacks – from a uniformed Arkansas Army recruiter murdered in 2009, Nidal Hasan murdered 13 and wounded 30 at Ft Hood also in 2009, a New Jersey teen murdered in June 2014 for revenge of military attacks, and just yesterday in Oklahoma a woman was beheaded in America’s heartland at her workplace for refusing to convert to Islam.

We have many calling out that there are jihadists in the United States NOW.

A new English-language Al Qaeda magazine features a how-to article on making car bombs and suggests terror targets in the United States, including casinos in Las Vegas, oil tankers and military colleges, and implies that an attack is imminent.(http://townhall.com/tipsheet/leahbarkoukis/2014/08/28/al-qaeda-magazine-hints-of-looming-attack-n1884524)

This magazine teaches the lone wolf jihadist, how to create pressure cooker bombs, like the Boston Marathon bombers used. It features a 9 page article “How to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” It encourages home grown terrorists to detonate bombs in crowded places such as New York Times Square, outside Vegas casinos, military colleges, and a defense contractor in California. The article states specific stores to bomb in Britain and to attack on Fridays during prayers so that Muslims won’t be killed.

The Administration has failed to secure peace in the region as we have seen with the vacuum ISIS was quick to fill in Iraq. We have no coherent, long term strategy to deal with the growing ISIS threat. The unrest in Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Libya and all across the region is a result of projection and weakness this Administration has telegraphed.

If I had one thing to say to the President: Mr. President, leaving Iraq didn’t mean the threat was over. Your enemy will decide when they won’t attack you anymore. Walking away, quitting, or announcing we won’t put boots on the ground is not a strategy. The enemy has a say in killing us.

If the US military is going to do something, it needs to be free to do it right. These slow “drip drip drip” responses by the White House will NEVER drown ISIS and similar terrorist groups, it will only prove our hesitancy to stand against threats to our freedom and prevent genocide against innocent civilians.

American’s have largely seen bombings from afar – we are on the verge of seeing exactly what has happened overseas now on our own shores. The horrific views we’ve seen of jihadists killing all over the world, now is an imminent threat here on a regular basis.

We have limited options now for the use of force and no coherent long term strategy to deal with the ISIS threat. ISIS/ISIL has made it clear: they don’t fear us in any way.

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Syria And The Mixed Messages To Our Military

I remember serving under President Ronald Reagan, who was my first commander in chief. Everyone old enough to remember can recall how the American hostages held by Iran were released shortly after Reagan won the election. That act taught me a big lesson: Leaders can convince the world they are serious by the way they carry themselves. A few years after the hostages were released; I had the honor of joining the Marines while Reagan was still in office.

When America’s interests were threatened by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Reagan took swift action against Gaddafi. Again, I respected his candid and lead-from-the-front demeanor. Sadly, one has little hope that there will be a similar outcome in resolving our current Middle East conundrum.

We have to ask, how on earth did we end up on the world stage unprepared to handle our own threats made against a foreign dictator?

All military is on high alert, trying to stay prepared for the decision to perform limited attacks on Syria, if indeed that’s the order that comes down. Yet everyone who has served our country can appreciate the absolute anxiety that faces the young men and women who don’t have clear leadership from the commander in chief.

Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry made a clear statement that we must answer the chemical attack in Syria. He argued that the world is watching us, and expects us to engage in strikes against Syria. After hearing Kerry’s speech, an American strike appeared imminent.

But just one day later, President Obama contradicted Kerry, to the country’s complete shock. He gave an ambiguous message that we might attack, maybe in a week, or a month, but first he wanted Congressional approval. He knew that no such approval could come until Congress returned to Washington (which was still more than 10 days away), but he didn’t ask them to cut their vacations short.

I sat and stared at my television and thought, “What just happened?” At that time, we had four warships in the Mediterranean with a fifth on the way. Every Marine and sailor on those ships had to be thinking, “So are we or aren’t we doing this?” No one on active duty likes a leader who isn’t clear and comprehensive in his or her words. A commander in chief must convince us we are going into harm’s way for the right reasons; otherwise frustration and apathy can prevent success.

This begs the question: “Who is Syrian dictator’s Bashar al-Assad’s opposition?”

After all, that would effectively be the side we were joining. The answer is troubling. Two years ago, the Free Syrian Army was formed to remove Assad as president of Syria. They appeared moderate in nature and sought our support. However, we didn’t intervene at that time to help overthrow Assad. Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and a plethora of other militants filled the vacuum within Assad’s opposition. The Supreme Military Council evolved and branded themselves as moderates fighting for freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, we know now that these militants are far from “moderates” but could be more accurately characterized as terrorists by western standards. If things couldn’t get worse, a video has surfaced with Syrian rebels admitting to using chemical weapons on more than one occasion.

What’s happened in Syria is a tragedy. There are 100,000 dead. We’ve known of this carnage, and in fact we knew of chemical attacks as early as June 2013, but it wasn’t until 1,400 Syrians were killed in August that the president started considering following through on his “red line” warning.

Yet a warning isn’t a battle plan. And essentially, we don’t have a plan to replace Assad, or to make real progress in Syria, and even worse, the perception by many is we may end up being used by al Qaeda to strike Assad. There hasn’t been a strategic argument made about how to replace the current Syrian leadership and there are unanswered questions on how will we engage with Iran, Syria’s close ally, should they decide to strike Israel in retaliation to our attack.

The administration’s vague threats have sent unclear messages beyond the civil war in Syria. We have seen uprising in Egypt against President Morsi who was supported by the administration all of the way up until his overthrow on July 3. We still have unresolved terrorist attacks on our embassy and the assassination of our ambassador and four other Americans in Libya. We still face a potential nuclear threat from Iran, and Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. The world isn’t watching us because of 1,400 dead Syrians. They are watching us because they believe we are no longer reliable and capable of decisive leadership in our foreign policy.

Congressional leaders are concerned that the limited strike the president wants to make will not deter Iran’s nuclear program or Syria’s chemical weapons program. They are right to be concerned since no one has been able to articulate any vision for how such a strike would advance our goals.

Put simply, the administration has created a strategic mess with its poor foreign policy and false threats. The result is we have projected our weakness to the world, reduced our credibility, and may put American lives at risk if we are drawn into military action over this debacle. We’ve come a long way from the surefooted, results-oriented leadership of President Reagan.

http://cv4a.org/syria-and-the-mixed-messages-to-our-military/

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Broken Promises: Bonuses To VA Employees A Slap In Face To Veterans

In 2008, President Obama vowed to fix the VA claims backlog. Instead, it grew 2,000 percent in just four years.

When General Eric Shinseki was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), he pledged to streamline the claims process. The VA promises the backlog will be resolved by 2015.

Yet, after all of these promises, there remain close to 760,000 pending claims and almost 62 percent are in the backlog.

Monday’s Washington Post reports that despite the benefits backlog, VA gave two-thirds of the claims processors $5.5 million in bonuses in 2011 despite a 155 percent increase in the claims backlog. VA employees fear the aggressive push to eliminate all year-old claims by October 1st and the entire backlog by 2015 will emphasize quantity over quality.

I served 20 years as a U.S. Marine. No medal was awarded until after a mission was complete. No bonuses were ever granted for exceptional performance. Doing our job at the highest level ensured we would see our next promotion. Yet somehow, the government agency that represents veterans rewards their employees who haven’t resolved a serious problem that faces our veterans today.

Obviously, the promises made by the President and Secretary Shinseki have been broken. The VA needs a dramatic overhaul to ensure efficiency and a reasonable turnaround for those veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country.

Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) realizes the VA is trying to push the claims through quickly. But we wonder if this rapid-fire method will just end up shuffling numbers from “first time claims filers” into “supplemental claims filers” as seen in their Monday Morning Workload report.

Will VA push their employees to rush through and give claims a rating to reduce the backlog, but at the expense of accuracy? This approach will only result in an increase in future appeals. It isn’t solving the problem if veterans have to file an appeal when they are assigned an unjust or inaccurate rating.

While VA has reportedly made progress in trimming the backlog, we must question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the VA let them sit for such long periods of time and create a backlog in the first place?

VA employees are working overtime to resolve the backlog, but what will happen to future claims once VA employees are taken off of mandatory overtime and returned to regular duties? Without key improvements in streamlining the process, there is no evidence that this problem won’t reveal itself again after 2015.

Funding is not the problem; the VA has the second largest budget after the Department of Defense, and Congress substantially increased investment in VA over the last five years (by an additional $25 billion). Yet the department has failed to automate its services and has continued to give out bonuses to senior managers.

When it comes to ensuring the VA has complete success eliminating the benefits backlog, the only numbers that matter are zero and 2015. This means the backlog must be at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders promised.

http://cv4a.org/broken-promises-bonuses-to-va-employees-a-slap-in-face-to-veterans/

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Pattern Recognition: Explosion Of Camouflage Designs Illustrates Pentagon Waste

Does the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) require a distinct camouflage pattern to excel on the battlefield? I doubt it. Nevertheless, the USMC adopted its own pattern around 2002, when I was on active duty, in keeping with a trend for distinctive camouflage patterns among the military branches.

Since 2002, two camouflage patterns have grown into TEN camouflage patterns between all military branches of service. Many of the patterns and fabric have proven to be ineffective in field/ship environments. Creating multiple camouflage uniforms has turned into a perfect example of how rampant duplication in the Pentagon leads to more wasteful government spending.

Today, Congressional budget-watchers are questioning the military’s expanding catalog of camouflage patterns, Timothy Homan reports at Bloomberg News. That’s good news for those of us who care about intelligent and effective spending in the Pentagon.

While this may sound like a small issue, it’s important to note that small spending issues can quickly turn into millions—or even billions—of wasted taxpayer dollars.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “the Pentagon spent about $300 million procuring new camouflage uniforms in fiscal 2011 and more than $10 million since 2002 developing different designs,” Homan notes.

“The Army alone may save an estimated $82 million if another branch worked with it to develop a new camouflage design, the GAO said in a report published in September 2012,” the Bloomberg report notes. “The government watchdog agency also said that if the Army selects a new design it would cost as much as $4 billion over five years to replace existing ones and the associated protective gear.”

The GAO report prompted the effort by lawmakers to cut spending and costs. With sequestration, budget cuts and defense employees taking furlough days, the Pentagon can’t continue wasteful and frivolous spending. Thus, Congress is taking note of wasteful spending, like the proliferation of camouflage patterns.

But we can expect push back from the service branches. For example, Marine Corps Sergeant Major Mike Barrett said earlier this year there is a reason Marines want to look distinctive on the battlefield: “Like our dress blues, the [combat uniform] is a visible indicator of our identity as United States Marines, globally,” he said. “It’s part of our Corps’ identity.”

That’s a typical response from too many within the Department of Defense: “Don’t touch mine.”

The fact is that there is no evidence that the pattern of the USMC’s “MARPAT” camouflage pattern alone enhanced a single Marine’s performance on the battlefield at any point in the last 10 years.

If the distinct “Marines” patch sewn over the left breast pocket isn’t enough to identify who we are, then we’ve forgotten what makes the Marines the unique service they were long before they had their own distinct camouflage pattern. After all, the Marines thrived for more than two centuries without this unnecessary frill.

Military men and women don’t always like change. When I was on active duty, I witnessed firsthand that resistance to change. When Marines had to sew name tags and branch of service onto their uniforms, many protested. Some Marines said the name tags made their uniform look like those of the Army, which had the tags over each breast pocket.

And when the new digital uniform were introduced, many non-commissioned officers protested, since the new uniform wouldn’t require ironing or starch to maintain creases. They actually believed the pressed uniform was the mark of a professional Marine. Any Marine that didn’t press or have their camouflage uniform dry cleaned and starched was considered a “[expletive]-bird.” Looking back, I have to laugh. Not one of us carried an iron and can of starch in our pack when we went to the field.

As I often heard as a Marine, “Choose your hill to die on.” The camouflage problem is one of many expensive and unnecessary items blended into our bloated defense budget. It’s time to get serious and knock off the territorial fashion statements. Unique service pride should not come at a cost that rests on the backs of hard-working taxpayers.

http://cv4a.org/pattern-recognition-explosion-of-camouflage-designs-illustrates-pentagon-waste/

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In Their Own Words: Veterans on the VA System

In recent months, we’ve written a lot about the deteriorating situation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where the number of veteran awaiting processing of their disability benefits claims remains unacceptably high. In total, more than 778,000 veterans are awaiting claims.

The numbers alone are shocking: The nationwide average wait is 332 days—almost a year. More than 500,000 veterans have waited longer than 125 days for their claim to be processed; almost 225,000 have waited a year or longer.

On Monday, I was pointing out the VA’s shortfall in service to our veterans on Twitter, using our #MillionVetBacklog hashtag. That prompted a response from the folks at the VA’s @VAVetBenefits account, who posted their claim that the backlog is shrinking. I won’t recount all the details of our exchange—you can see some of the back and forth here.

But mere numbers simply don’t go far enough to tell the story—after all, each of these claims represents a veteran (along with his or her family and dependents) who is anxiously awaiting action from a bureaucracy that is sluggish, unresponsive and ineffectual. The VA wants us to believe they have everything in hand, and that things are getting better. But most veterans I deal with report a far different experience.

So how do we capture a better sense of what veterans think about their VA experience? We asked them.

Recently, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) conducted a survey of 545 people around the nation, asking about wait times, the quality of the experience and how they would improve the VA’s performance.

The response was illuminating. On a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent), our respondents ranked their experience with the VA at an average 2.29—roughly “poor to average.”

We also asked veterans to describe their experience in one word. What was the most common word they used? “Frustrating.” To give you a visual grasp of the words veterans selected, check out the word cloud we created from their responses at the top of the post.

Note that some veterans did, in fact, report positive experiences—you’ll see that some chose “good,” “great” and “satisfactory” to describe their VA experiences. I’m glad to hear it. If I were a VA executive, I wouldn’t rest until I could figure out what we had done to earn those plaudits, and then figure out how we can replicate those successes for a larger population of vets.

Maybe the VA’s time would be better spent trying to figure out how to improve its customer service to veterans rather than arguing with their critics on Twitter—especially when the department’s performance gives them so little to boast about.

Because those positive responses are vastly outnumbered by negative experiences. “Poor,” “disgusting,” “slow,” “disappointing” and “nightmare” were all-too-common responses. And those responses portray the reality for far too many veterans in their dealings with the VA benefits system.

Overall, the survey paints a picture of a VA that is staggeringly dysfunctional and failing in its mission of service to veterans. We can—and must—do better.

http://cv4a.org/in-their-own-words-veterans-on-va-system/

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OP-ED | Sequestration Cuts Won’t Solve Washington’s Spending Problem

Spend a little time in Washington, D.C., and you’d be hard pressed to see any evidence of the economic doldrums that have plagued the rest of the nation over the last several years. While the greater United States contends with slow growth and high unemployment, the nation’s capital is now the wealthiest metropolitan area in the nation.

That’s according to a recent analysis by 24/7 Wall Street. The typical household in the Washington metro area, which includes the District of Columbia along with suburbs of eastern Maryland and northern Virginia, brings home $86,680 each year—71 percent higher than the $50,502 per year national median. These days, even the technology barons of Silicon Valley take a backseat to our privileged government class.

This is not what a healthy society looks like. Compare the United States in the 21st century to the Roman Empire in its declining years, and the parallels are alarming. In Rome, those who lived in and around the capital city and moved among the emperor and the ruling class lived in high style. The further citizens and subjects lived from Rome, the harder it became.

That’s why the recent debate over sequestration, which delivers sharp cuts to federal spending, especially in the defense budget, seems like just what we needed. After all, if the Washington, D.C., metro area is getting rich off the rest of America while running up massive amounts of spending and debt, it’s time to rein them in, right?

Well, not exactly. There’s no question we need to put the brakes on the runaway spending train in the nation’s capital, and there’s no question the nation’s current $16.5 trillion debt load is unsustainable. But the planned cuts under sequestration, which began March 1, are the wrong way to go about bringing fiscal discipline to Washington.

The problem with the sequester, which reduces defense by some $500 billion over the next decade (along with other cuts in discretionary spending), is that it’s a “meat ax” approach to budget cutting. Rather than looking at our strategic threats and priorities and adjusting the budget accordingly, the sequester imposes steep cuts and demands that our military leaders adjust the budget based on the funding that’s left.

Sure, with combat operations completed in Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, we should expect to see some reduction in defense spending. Yet to cut too deeply into the “muscle” of our national security investment will leave the United States and our allies around the world vulnerable to threats like Iran, North Korea or even China.

Worse yet, the cuts under sequestration, while reducing our investment in strategic defense priorities, would do little to reduce the deficit and nothing to reduce the debt. The only way to actually bring down spending and get a handle on our runaway debt is by reforming our entitlement programs, principally Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Millions of Americans rely on these programs that are structurally unsound. Medicare will be out of money in 11 years on its current spending track, according to a report from the Medicare board of trustees; Social Security will be broke in 20 years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Yet when it comes to reform, these unsustainable programs have been labeled “untouchable” by the president and his congressional allies—even though reducing spending in entitlements is the only path back to fiscal sanity. Why? Because without reform today, Social Security and Medicare will be unable to meet the needs of future beneficiaries. Reforming entitlements isn’t just good fiscal sense—it’s also the only way to ensure these programs survive for future generations.

Sadly, however, instead of having this common sense discussion, Washington has elected to slash defense spending, reducing our force readiness and leaving our military weaker while the world grows more dangerous.

Our imperial governing class probably doesn’t want to hear this message. They want to keep feeding at the trough of federal spending, piling up debt and imperiling our nation’s future while the nation’s capital milks the cash cow that is the American taxpayer. Yet whether the sequestration goes into effect or not, we’ll still have a dangerous spending problem—and we’ll still be at risk for a serious budget reckoning in the near future.

Originally published in The Washington Times

http://cv4a.org/op-ed-sequestration-cuts-wont-solve-washingtons-spending-problem/

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OP-ED | So When Are Women Joining the NFL?

Should the National Football League allow women on the playing field? After all, they can kick and carry a ball, and professional football is one industry in which women are sorely under-represented, to say the least.

It’s not that likely to happen, is it?

The reality is Americans would be horrified to see a 220-pound strong safety drive over a female wide receiver running toward the goal line. There’s simply too great a disparity in body mass and strength between NFL players and women, and the physical demands are too great.

Amazingly, what is common sense on the football field has now been completely abandoned on the battlefield.

With the Pentagon’s recent announcement that combat positions will be open to women, we see the latest misguided effort to achieve “equality” where it cannot be achieved—and it may cost military women in the long run.

Women have long served in support of combat missions, frequently near the front lines. As a woman and a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, I know first-hand how difficult combat field operations are.

I carried in excess of 100 pounds of gear over difficult terrain for 10-15 mile marches throughout my 20-year career. This was done only with an M-16 rifle or pistol, not with the additional ammunition or heavier weapons our ground units carry. The fatigue was extreme and it was difficult to imagine how an infantryman overcame the difficulty of field movement for weeks or months at a time.

Under current policy, women in the Marine Corps are held to a less-rigorous physical standard due to the obvious physical differences. It’s a physiological fact that women have less upper body strength compared to men—yet the physical demands of combat won’t change.

Currently, women have higher rates of discharge for medical disability that prevents them from finishing their enlistment, or re-enlistment. Stress and muscular deterioration in women comes on faster and harder due to the heavy gear and physical duress in the field environment.

Muscle atrophy, hip displacement, and arthritis in knees and joints are common ailments. Spinal compression occurs from long periods of heavy combat loads.

This is the hard reality of how extended field time and intense physical standards take their toll. Women’s bodies simply aren’t designed for the fatigue of field operations with heavy field gear and weapons on less muscular body frames. (For an example, read this eye-opening article by Captain Katie Petronio, who details the long-term physical damage she endured supporting Marine Corps infantry as a combat engineer).

Sure, a small number of women will meet the requirements and complete training. How will combat units adjust for these statistical outliers? What is reasonable accommodation when it comes to showering or relieving oneself?

Even our civilian society allows for non-compliance when an accommodation requires unreasonable demands upon the employer. (The elephant in the room in the question of sexual abuse, which is already a seriously and heavily-documented problem in the services; it’s hard to imagine how this new policy won’t exacerbate that problem.)

The bitter irony is that the long-term effect of this policy, which is intended to open up avenues for higher promotion to women, could result in fewer military opportunities for women.

If this is about promotional opportunity (and there are female generals in fields outside of combat arms, by the way), then each field should be evaluated to ensure promotional opportunity is balanced fairly for women. This is a more practical adjustment than to simply remove restrictions. Women are often promoted faster than men in the fields they are assigned.

Are we setting a woman up for failure by placing her into a field that will likely cause her body to deteriorate to a point where further service is impossible? Even if a female can get through Infantry Officers’ Course, which has a single physical standard for both men and women — and a 25% male drop-out rate — how long can her body meet the demands of the extreme training?

The odds are remote that any woman in a combat position will make it 20 years to see the opportunity to retire, let alone be considered for the rank of general officer.

Many of the advocates of this policy had support roles that never required them to sleep in mud, bathe without privacy and relieve themselves in the open.

It’s alarming that women from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, former officers who flew planes, or a few females who supported infantry for a few months as Female Engagement Teams in Iraq, have adopted a shallow “You go, girl!” mindset. These advocates, to say nothing of the media cheerleaders and others who have never served and are now celebrating this policy; have never met the rigorous requirements of the infantry themselves.

There is zero evidence this new policy will enhance combat readiness. The attitude that all military opportunities must be equal — held by those who have misconceptions about the realities of long combat operations — demonstrates how few people understand what the mission of our infantry truly requires.

http://cv4a.org/women-joining-nfl/

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The Honeymoon’s Over: Debt Ceiling Nears Limit

Last week, while we were all consumed with the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy and the final days of the 2012 campaign, the U.S. Department of Treasury issued a quiet warning that the U.S. was about to hit the debt ceiling. Don’t feel bad about missing this news—it was buried at the bottom of a Treasury news release.

Treasury continues to expect the debt limit to be reached near the end of 2012. However, Treasury has the authority to take certain extraordinary measures to give Congress more time to act to ensure we are able to meet the legal obligations of the United States of America. We continue to expect that these extraordinary measures would provide sufficient “headroom” under the debt limit to allow the government to continue to meet its obligations until early in 2013.

You recall that in August 2011, Democrats and Republicans in Washington finally overcame a bitter stalemate on the debt ceiling, raising the legal limit to $16.394 trillion. According to Treasury, we’re now in line to top that limit by the end of this year—meaning it will take only about 16 months of spending for our government to reach the limit.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is unequivocal that the debt ceiling will be raised again, and he indicates it should be done without debate. CNS News reports:

“I think the debt ceiling will come after the first of the year,” Reid said. “But please everyone accept this: They tried it before—they, the Republicans.”

“They tried it before – ‘We’re going to shut down the government, and we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling,’” he said. “If they want to go through that again, fine.”

“But we’re not going to be held subject to something that was done as a matter of fact in all previous administrations,” Reid said.

CNSNews.com then asked, “But will you support raising it by another $2.4 trillion?”

“If it has to be raised, we’ll raise it,” he said.

Keep in mind that with the planned automatic spending cuts slated for January under “sequestration,” $500 billion of which will come from the defense budget, we still won’t reduce the debt. We’ll only slow the rate of growth in the deficit for a few years. So, not only will we get a complete lack of smart, targeted spending reform that we need—we’ll increase our debt levels while we diminish our defense capabilities with these “meat ax” cuts.

It’s a monumental failure of governance, but amazingly this was barely an issue in the 2012 campaign. Where’s the leadership?

http://cv4a.org/the-honeymoons-over-debt-ceiling-nears-limit/

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ELECTION 2012: The Cratering Military Vote

If you need more evidence that military voting rights are eroding before our eyes, look no further than the Commonwealth of Virginia, where absentee ballot requests by military personnel have dropped an astonishing 70 percent from 2008.

That’s the word from an extensive report in the Virginia Watchdog that focused on data provided by Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project. The report finds that out of more than 126,000 registered military voters in Virginia, a paltry 1,746 have requested absentee ballots. The Watchdog reports:

The dropoff is ironic, considering that Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) in 2009 to help highly transient military voters obtain absentee ballots wherever they are stationed.

“The fact is that an incredibly small percentage of military voters are requesting absentee ballots for the 2012 election, even though a majority of military members — roughly two-thirds — will need to vote by absentee ballot,” [Eric Eversole of the MVP Project] said.

Eversole acknowledged that personal responsibility figures into the equation, but he said service members aren’t getting the same voter-assistance and access that civilians receive through motor-vehicle offices and social-service agencies.

“We’re not seeing the same level of emphasis [on military voting] that we saw four years ago,” Eversole told Virginia Watchdog.

It’s not just Virginia: the MVP project notes that military absentee ballot requests are down in Florida (46 percent decrease); North Carolina (59 percent decrease); Alaska (52 percent decrease); and Ohio (70 percent decrease).

Eversole lays the blame on the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the Department of Defense (DoD) program responsible for ensuring that military personnel have access to reliable information about their voting rights. But as we’ve seen recently, that information isn’t necessarily reliable—just last week I wrote about the scandal of an FVAP web page for Wisconsin that listed the wrong deadline for returning ballots.

In this Fox News report, a DoD spokesperson defends the department’s performance on military voting rights, arguing that the 2008 numbers were higher because of contested primaries on both the Republican and Democratic sides. That may be true, but it can hardly be expected to account for declines of up to 70 percent. (Moreover, there’s far more at stake than just the White House; we also have heated Senate and House races and any number of state and local offices up for grabs.)

The DoD spokesperson also notes that total voting numbers won’t be available until after the election. Well, yes, obviously. But that smokescreen doesn’t change the fact that far too many of our uniformed service personnel simply will not be voting in the 2012 election—and after the election, there will be little incentive for the FVAP to get its act together. Don’t be surprised when we’re having this same discussion during the 2014 midterm election.

We’ve had plenty of warnings that military voters were on the verge of a massive disenfranchisement. The House Armed Services Committee was so alarmed about the FVAP’s failure to implement MOVE Act provisions that they called the program to account in a hearing last month; meanwhile, the MVP Project has been reporting for months that the outlook for military voting in this election year was “bleak.”

The MVP Project’s forecast is coming true in Virginia, Florida, Alaska, North Carolina and Ohio—and most likely in other states as well. In this year’s election, the voice of military voters and their families, who bear a disproportionately high cost for decisions made in Washington, will go unheard.

http://cv4a.org/election-2012-the-cratering-military-vote/

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Federal Vote Help Site Gets Ballot Deadlines Wrong

For service personnel from the Badger State who might have been trying to determine when their absentee ballots would be due, the incorrect date of November 16 would, of course, have ensured that their votes would not have counted.

This isn’t the first time we’ve found problems at the FVAP, nor will it be the last. Earlier this month, FVAP officials testified before Congress about progress in implementing the 2009 Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The testimony offered little insight, as DoD officials largely dodged the questions. Three years later, key provisions of the MOVE Act still have not been put into place. As a result, the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project is forecasting a “bleak” outlook for military voting in this year’s election.

The insanity goes without any logic or reason. How can absentee ballot requests for active duty military and overseas voters go down for the same time period in 2012 as 2008? The Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act, created to increase military and overseas voter participation, was passed in 2009. The drop in absentee ballot requests demonstrates that Department of Defense’s failure to establish voting assistance centers on over half of the installations overseas has severely impacted our servicemembers abilities to register to vote.

The FVAP official proudly testified that they created a electronic system that enables military to register through their FVAP website. But their electronic gadgets were NOT required by the law. The voting assistance centers are a requirement to the federal law and the purpose of the hearing. FVAP failed to implement a simple and inexpensive means to ensure all active duty military stationed overseas were able to register to vote when they transferred into a new duty station.

For an agency tasked with providing “assistance to facilitate [service members] participation in the democratic process—regardless of where they work or live,” the FVAP is not inspiring a great deal of confidence in its ability to deliver on its mission.

Given the careful attention being paid to our government’s failures to protect military personnel’s voting rights, you might think the FVAP could at least get the deadline dates right on their website. No such luck—and now another year will pass without significant progress on ensuring our service personnel’s right to participate in our democracy.

Instead, the budget for FVAP has been over 30 million for the past 3 years, including 46 million in 2011. Those tax payers dollars were squandered away on electronic systems FVAP officials gloated about, but failed to increase voter registration for those who defend our nations freedom.

This stuff should be easy. For crying out loud – if they can’t keep track of 50 state secretaries’ of state deadlines, how are we ever going to get through the crises this winter?

http://cv4a.org/federal-vote-help-site-gets-ballot-deadlines-wrong/