Saturday, December 22, 2007

Do They Know It's Christmas Time?

[Updated December 24]
[Updated December 23]

In case you don't recognize it, that's the title of a song from a charity event called Band Aid back in 1984. That's the cover of their twentieth anniversary single, by the way. Part of the first stanza is:

But say a prayer - pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

Do They Know It's Christmas Time Lyrics by Band Aid

Here are just a few things people less fortunate than we are doing this Christmas, and a little that you can do to help.

First, in Iraq, our soldiers are learning to cope with new rules for convoys. In the past, they were allowed to rule the road - warning Iraqis driving near them to get off the road, and even shooting at them on occasion. Now that the violence has ebbed there a bit, they have been issued new orders:

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — In the first month that they were in Iraq, someone threatened, shot at or tried to blow up the soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard's B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery 12 times. Last month, there were only three such incidents.

But confirmation that the roads have become safer came a few weeks ago when a flier went up in the 2-138's office at this base 20 miles north of Baghdad.

"Effective immediately," it read, "assume all civilian vehicles are friendly."

The order admonished soldiers throughout Iraq to yield to civilian drivers, allow vehicles to pass and avoid firing their weapons as they escorted convoys of concrete barriers, generators, water and food to U.S. military outposts.

U.S. convoys struggle to adjust to policy change

Now, both our soldiers and Iraqi drivers are having to sort out the new rules:

On the road, most civilian drivers still pulled over, darkened their lights and made room for the long stretches of U.S. military vehicles. Soldiers of the 2-138 followed orders and used their spotlights to urge them back onto the road.

"You have to change your whole mindset," said Little, a bank employee from Radcliff, Ky., who holds a degree in anthropology. "Makes you a little nervous."

U.S. convoys struggle to adjust to policy change

The Iraqis now have to decide if they want to share the road with people who were shooting at them a month ago. The soldiers have to worry that they're sharing the road with someone driving a car bomb. I don't envy either group.

Even though they're well equipped, there are many things our soldiers in Iraq don't have. One thing is a way to phone home. Working Asset's CREDO is accepting donations for calling cards for wounded veterans. They might not get the cards by Christmas if you order them now, but as someone once said, the spirit of giving shouldn't be confined to one day a year. See UPDATE

[ is still accepting donations for phone cards for the holidays.]

What about the soldiers who have come back from Iraq? As Joe Galloway wrote a couple of weeks ago, some of them might be sleeping on a steam grate:

Consider this:

* An average of 18 veterans commit suicide each and every day of the year, according to recent statistics from the Veterans Administration (VA). That’s 126 veterans who kill themselves every week. Or some 6,552 who take their own lives each year. Our veterans are killing themselves at twice the rate of other Americans.

* One quarter of the homeless people in America are military veterans. That’s one in every four. Is that ragged man huddled on the steam grate in a brutal winter wind a Vietnam vet? Did that younger man panhandling for pocket change on the street corner fight in Kandahar or Fallujah?

For the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been insisting that it’s doing everything it needs to for the nation’s veterans. That's simply not true, particularly when it comes to the VA's treatment of mental health issues.

The disgraceful treatment of our veterans

I've written about these issues before and so have numerous others, but this is something that these veterans live with every day. Galloway sums this situation up eloquently:

The same people who don’t blink at spending $3 billion a week on their war of choice in Iraq were the ones who cut the VA budget and privatized maintenance at Walter Reed Army Hospital and opposed every attempt to expand benefits for veterans old and young.

They're the same people who turned a blind eye as their corporate sponsors and private donors looted billions of dollars from the Treasury with no-compete contracts and bloated bills for everything from food for the troops to fuel for their tanks and trucks.

As a wave of wounded troops suffering brain injuries from the blasts of roadside bombs and landmines poured into military hospitals, these people, posing as fiscally responsible budget makers, were cutting in half the money spent on research into brain injuries.

These frauds who love to pose as wartime leaders sat back and did nothing as a cruel bureaucracy sent bill collectors out to harass double amputee veterans for thousands of dollars because they neglected to turn their armored vests and other gear in to the supply sergeant after they were blown apart on the battlefield.

The disgraceful treatment of our veterans

Of course, since Galloway wrote this, Congress has chucked another $70 billion into the black hole that is our campaign in Iraq, with no preconditions. To quote my favorite Air Force colonel at his most sarcastic, "Thanks for putting up a struggle, guys."

Meanwhile, the Iraqis have suffered in even greater numbers. The number of refugees, according to Juan Cole, has grown in just the past few months:

How the US 'surge' drove almost one million Iraqis to Syria last spring and summer is a great mystery, and casts severe doubt on its political success. A significant proportion of these one million Surge Victims appear to have been Baghdad Sunnis, since from January of 2007 through July 2007 the US military admits that Baghdad went from being 65% Shiite to being 75% Shiite. Since another 500,000 left between July and October, depending on what proportion of those were Sunnis, Baghdad could now be even more than 3/4s Shiite.

Surge Exiled One Million Iraqis to Syria where they Face Starvation

A U.N. report Prof. Cole cited on Iraqi refugees who have fled to Syria says that of the sample interviewed, 78% of them came from Baghdad. It also says that among the interviewees, 5% of the members of their households they reported on to the U.N. in 2003 are now missing or dead. Of those that are dead, 78% of them were murdered.

Unfortunately, I know of no charities set up to help Iraqi refugees. As I've explained before, the security situation in Iraq has made it almost impossible to help those still in the country. Giving to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) may help, but then again it may not.

Speaking of refugees, nothing's gotten any better for the Sudanese refugees. Talks, thanks to a lack of motivation on the part of the Sudanese government, a cease fire is looking very unlikely at this point:

18 December 2007 – A senior United Nations envoy has issued an appeal for all sides to the Darfur conflict to cease their hostilities on the eve of the deployment of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) to try to quell the violence and suffering in the war-wracked region of western Sudan.

Rodolphe Adada, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur and the head of mission of AMIS, the current AU mission to the region, launched the appeal yesterday after holding talks with a senior Sudanese Government official in Khartoum.

Mr. Adada said a cessation of hostilities would help create an environment conducive to the success of the peace process between the Government and the many rebel groups in Darfur, where they have been fighting since 2003.

Darfur: UN envoy calls for cessation of hostilities on eve of force deployment

The deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping force is being obstructed by them as well.

You can help, by ordering a Berkeley cookstove through The Hunger Site. Twenty dollars will buy a cookstove for a Sudanese refugee family. It won't get there by Christmas, of course, but, well, we covered that already.

If none of these charities appeal to you, The Hunger Site has a whole list of things you can give that you don't have to wrap and give to someone who doesn't want it. Have a look.

Meanwhile, as Band Aid said, be thankful you can give these people your time or money, and you're not the people who need the help.

Happy Holidays.

UPDATE: Knew I should have checked that link - the CREDO calling card program has been discontinued. According to the page I was redirected to, The VA administration let us know that they cannot accept any more cards at this time. Thanks to everyone that donated to make this project a success. I've removed that link. I'll try to find a replacement.

UPDATE 2: Added a link to UNICEF.

UPDATE 3 (Dec. 23): I need to read my e-mail more often. I received this from the other day:

It's inspiring—in less than 24 hours, MoveOn members like you have given over $250,000 to help our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world call home. Men and women who are separated from their families this holiday season will be a little closer thanks to your generosity.

They are still accepting donations for phone cards for the holidays. It's something that the soldiers over there will really appreciate.

UPDATE 4 (Dec. 23): I haven't found any good links for aid to veterans - there are plenty of them, but I don't know of any I could recommend personally. Veterans for Peace provides a resource page of organizations that are concerned with helping veterans adjust to civilian life, help them in their dealings with the government, and to help homeless veterans. There's plenty to investigate there.

Meanwhile, CREDO, who ran the phone card drive for veterans I mentioned earlier, wrote this in their blog recently:

They are lying in beds, two to three to a room. Many have no use of their limbs. One young man paralyzed from a combat injury in Iraq used a computer through a device attached to his forehead. Photos of his young son covered a wall next to his bed. Still, as a group of donors and staff from CREDO Mobile moved through the spinal-cord injury ward at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, the military veterans were cheerful, polite and all smiles.

We were there to deliver calling cards to military veterans. Hundreds of other volunteers fanned out across the country in person (and other hospitals received cards by Federal Express) so veterans can call home and connect with their families over the holidays. Through its donation-based program, CREDO Mobile ( has partnered with Veterans For Peace to distribute long distance calling cards to military veterans at 150 VA hospitals nationwide. CREDO Mobile and Veterans For Peace have raised over $100,000 to distribute 30,000 cards this year, totaling 3.5 million minutes of talk time.

Veterans in California Appreciate the Support

We already covered that bit about charity not being a Christmas-only thing, right?

UPDATE 5 (Dec. 24): Just in time, Taylor Marsh found a charity that aids wounded veterans. It's Operation First Response. Presidential candidate Bill Richardson sent out an appeal on their behalf, so I think we can assume it's legit.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cujo359 said...

I guess it's time to add a rule about comments - don't quote the entirety of an article here if you can provide a link. It's bad enough that commenters have to scroll past all my verbage. Don't make them scroll past yours.

I'm going to remove the original content. If the author of it has a problem with that, I'd love for him to republish it in a succinct form similar to the below. I'll also remove it entirely if that is his preference.

Jay Janson wrote, sans article quote:

Keep thinking that the American public would respond with increased generosity if it was aware of its citizen complicity in the early CIA fostering of rebelious war in Southern Sudan after oil was discoved there.

I once worked on a documentary for an anniversary of the African Development Bank and although never was in Darfur, I was close enough to the Sudan border in Ethiopian and Kenya and have a spot in my heart for the magnificent people of this region. I just knocked out this article when I remembered, (I'm well into my 70s) of U.S. backing the rebels was never being factored in.
By the way, I wonder and ask you as someone more conversant on the Sudan than I, whether or not the U.S. is still actively supporting the rebellion{s}, either materially or diplomatically, either openly or secretly. sentimentally, morally and/or spiritually.?
Appreciativly in advance should you have time to read my article and comment,

That now the U.S. use its economic power humanely, to promote peace in the Sudan and give generously to help war victims.

in brotherhood,
Jay Janson

Published on 5 Jul 2004 by Zaman Daily. Archived on 5 Jul 2004.
Oil Underlies Darfur Tragedy
by Cumali Onal

The fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, which is being reported in the world press as 'ethnic cleansing' and a 'humanitarian crisis', reportedly stems from attempts to gain control over the oil resources in the region, claim Arab sources.

These Arab sources find it interesting that such skirmishes occurred when a peace agreement that would have brought an end to 21 years of north-south conflict was about to be signed. The sources point out that oil fields have recently been discovered in Darfur.

Cujo359 said...

As for my comments on the article:

First of all, I'm by no means an expert on Sudan. I know things aren't going so well, have some understanding of how they got that way, and thus am probably vastly more informed than most Americans about the place. Anyone who has worked there or been there for a while has probably learned more about it than I ever will.

It certainly does look as though Sudan's troubles are at least partly due to oil. Whether that's due to foreign intrigues (including ours), or due to the economic imbalances oil money is creating is probably as much a question of one's point of view as of the facts. The Chinese also are very interested in the region, and their interest is about the oil, also. One of the things that have made international action difficult, as I understand it, is Chinese reluctance to honk off the rulers of the country. Sudan may become China's Saudi Arabia, in other words.

So whether our involvement in Sudan is a good thing or a bad thing is probably not a simple question to answer. We're there, so are others with something to gain or lose by how things go there. I think the bottom line is, as in Saudi Arabia, as long as their oil is important to the outside world, Sudan's rulers are going to have more power than they ought to.