In the spring of 2000, my oldest son, Casey Sheehan, was at a crossroads. He was completing his third year at a community college and he had finished all of his lower division requirements. Casey earned an AA in Theatre Arts and was hoping to transfer to Sacramento State and get his teaching degree to teach elementary school. However, working full time and going to college was taking its toll on Casey.
Somehow, an Army recruiter got hold of him at the right time and he was beguiled by the promises of instant wealth (a $20,000 signing bonus that somehow metamorphosed into $4500 when he finished basic training); a specialty that was attractive to him (Chaplain's assistant) that was transformed into being a humvee mechanic when he reached basic and promises of education that never, ever materialized. After Casey was KIA in Iraq, we got a check for $1200; his educational benefit that was taken out of HIS pay for the first year he was in the Army: One hundred dollars a month for twelve months. Not even one penny of interest for the entire time that the government had his money.
In 2002, Andy, my youngest son, graduated from high school. Uncle Sam allowed Casey to come out on leave to attend his brother's graduation and the pictures of my four children together at that time break my heart. This was after the tragedy of 9-11, but before the insane invasion of Iraq. Andy was not much of a student and did not do as well as Casey when he tried to take classes at Solano Community College. Not every person is designed to take an academic route, so that was okay, but I worried how was Andy going to support himself without an education? One day, almost miraculously, an apprenticeship job with Operating Engineers, Local 3, fell into Andy's lap. He was hired to be a land surveyor's apprentice as age 19 and now at age 24, he is a journeyman in a great union with great pay and benefits. These great opportunities, however, are few and far between for our young people today.
Andy's union bent over backwards to help him make up his apprenticeship classes after Casey was killed and Andy is getting a quality education while he is getting on the job training. I thank Andy's lucky stars everyday that he was saved from joining the military: a fate worse than death, for sure.
Any day now, my daughter's son, Jonah, will make his appearance into this world. Because of his Uncle Casey's sacrifice, our family will do everything in our power to make sure Jonah does not become cannon fodder or a paid assassin for the Military Industrial Complex. There will be no more naïve, but well-intentioned mistakes in the Sheehan family! Even more important than this, however, the tale of three sons should be instructive to the US population as a whole.
A recent AP article lamented the Democrat's "politically painful" choice of funding BushCo's occupation of Iraq for another year. Of course, what the Democrats really mean is that they have to fund Iraq and Afghanistan past the November elections because the leadership is counting on the fact that we Americans have short-term memory when it comes to their callous political expediency. However, now, with the economy in virtual free-fall and the mess in the Middle East worsening by the day, we are all beginning to feel the sting of the personal cost of this occupation.
As a political candidate against the number one Bush enabler, Nancy Pelosi, I have felt the immense personal pain of her politically "painful" decisions and I have a plan that would help our country (and the world, especially Iraq) recover from 8 years of the Bush Horror and prevent more Caseys and promote more Andys and Jonahs.
First, as an emergency measure, we need to start bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We are borrowing from Jonah's future to fund these occupations at 16 billion a month. We will need to use some of that money as reparations to these countries and to help our veterans reintegrate wholly into society. It has recently been estimated that 18 vets per day commit suicide (6-7 Iraq vets) and 250 more per week try, but are not successful.
Secondly, instead of using this money to fund death and destruction, we immediately institute, or re-institute jobs' programs that put our unemployed neighbors back to work repairing bridges, levees, roads, schools and other infrastructure that has been crumbling for the last few decades.
Such barriers to fair trade, as NAFTA and other "free" trade agreements need to be repealed and we need to rebuild our trade unions to be the bargaining force that they once were. We need a place for our young Andys to go to learn positive trades with decent pay and benefits.
Finally, to prevent more Caseys, we need to reduce our Pentagon budget to a rational and moral one that would be strong on defense, but not strong enough to be able to staff almost one thousand bases world-wide, nor to be able to embark on illegal wars of aggression. Our "defense" budget has now surpassed an obscene one trillion dollars a year (not counting the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan) and the nation that spends the second most is, with over triple the US population, China, at 65 billion. Adjusting for the fact that we can be the "mightiest" nation on earth, I propose a DOD budget of 70 billion dollars.
We can use the money we save every year to truly reduce taxes on the middle and working classes and invest in institutions and programs that truly make a nation strong: health care, education, jobs, and sustainable forms of energy and farming.
The vampire of US fascist militarism is sucking this country and world dry. To ensure a healthy world for Jonah and all of our children, the monster needs to be stopped!