Tagged: military personnel
Whether you are firmly lodged in Camp Romance or you think Valentine’s Day is a trumped-up excuse to sell greeting cards, there’s no getting around that date on the calendar. Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is big business for a lot of people and has been since the first cards were mass produced in the 1840s. Not 1940s, friends, 1840s.*
I still don’t know what I’m getting my love to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. Playing the numbers, the odds are that I’ll possibly buy candy (58 million pounds of chocolate are sold in the week leading up to Feb 14) or indulge in a little sparkling wine (174,000 gallons of the stuff are sold during the week of Valentine’s Day).* But I’ve done that before, and it didn’t end well.
There’s a little story I’d like to share with you a story of a Valentine’s Day gone horribly wrong. Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was smitten by a young man. We’ll call him Carl (not his real name). Carl asked her to have dinner with him on Valentine’s Day. She was very excited, as she had recently experienced a bitter breakup of a previous relationship and was ready to move on. Plus, she had developed a substantial crush on Carl after they became study buddies in their Introduction to Introductions class in college (not the real class).
Well, this young woman spent an entire part-time bookstore clerk’s paycheck on chocolate, a tasteful plush bear, and an even more tasteful bottle of wine for said Carl, in hopes of wooing him to return her affection. Carl was very smart, and very handsome, and also had a part-time job.
But Carl did not have any common sense. Because Carl showed up at her doorstep bearing a dead fish in a bag. A whole, dead, fish. As a gift. On Valentine’s Day. Oh yes, he did.
When she looked at him quizzically, taking the stinky bag from his proudly extended arms, he smiled and said “As in, there are others in the sea.” Oh, Carl. You really shouldn’t have. It went downhill from there. You probably already know that that was their first and last date.
In the end, it all worked out fine, because only a year or two later the young lady met her best friend, and fell in love, and he proposed and it has been an adventure ever since. But I digress.
So if you’re ready to aim and fire a love bazooka at your servicemember or military spouse like our pair of cupids up there, I’d like to suggest, right underneath “Dead Fish in a Brown Paper Bag,” a few other gift ideas that you should NEVER give your valentine. I’m just looking out for you.
A gym membership:
Nothing says “we need to talk” quite like a gym membership. Except maybe this next gift idea…
A gift card for Dental Whitening
But honey, I thought you loved my smile?
Really, personal hygiene products of any kind are not big libido boosters. So avoid gift wrapping these:
And unless your valentine specifically asks for one, do not get him or her any gift that requires feeding, grooming, walking or litter box training.
I’m as much of a sucker for a furry face as anybody, but pets are big time responsibilities, not last-minute gifts.
If you know your love at all, you know what gifts would be off limits and what would be welcome, and odds are good that if you’re not sure, you can ask for ideas. That’s a sign of concern, not of weakness, my friends. Hey, maybe this is the year you can invest in yourself and take a class or two?
However you celebrate – or don’t – here’s wishing you all the happiness your hearts can hold on Valentine’s Day. And unless you’re actually going fishing (which would also be awesome), or you are a cat (which would be weird) I hope no one brings you a dead trout.
*sources: history.com, US Census Bureau
White House to GOP: Let us increase the debt or the troops get it.
That’s the message Obama had for Congress during a press conference last week, in which reporters asked about the ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling – a Congressionally-imposed cap on the amount of debt the federal government is authorized.
“If congressional Republicans refuse to pay Americans bills on time, Social Security benefits and veterans’ checks will be delayed,” stated President Obama. “We might not be able to pay our troops or honor our contract for small business owners.”
A Republican representative and War on Terror veteran Duncan Hunter of San Diego, California, has introduced legislation that authorizes the federal government to pay military salaries regardless of the debt limit.
“America’s military men and women fight to defend our freedom without asking for much in return,” said Hunter, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Whether they are fighting in Afghanistan or supporting operations elsewhere, servicemembers deserve assurance that they will not be denied a paycheck. And if paychecks are withheld, it’s because the President, as commander in chief, made a decision not to pay them.
“Especially for those who are serving overseas while their families are at home, the threat of not getting paid can create unnecessary distractions. Removing the threat that paychecks might be withheld or delayed will provide a sense of relief and allow our servicemembers to stay focused on their duties.”
Duncan is currently a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
About the Debt Ceiling
The Constitution of the United States gives Congress overall responsibility for determining the fiscal policy of the United States. That is, it is Congress, not the President, who primarily decides major tax and spending issues. Constitutionally, the President cannot direct the government to borrow without the approval of Congress.
At the same time, the President cannot refuse to spend money as directed by Congress. He must, by law, operate all the departments and programs he is directed to by Congress – which puts the President on the horns of a dilemma: For years, the amount of money Congress has ordered the government to spend has been greater than the amount coming in. The U.S. government has been forced to borrow the difference by selling bonds, which the government must eventually repay, with interest. The total amount financed by borrowing increases every year.
Meanwhile, though, Congress has also established an overall cap on borrowing, beyond which the President cannot go without getting further authorization from Congress.
This discussion is separate from the “sequestration” cuts that will slash about 10 percent from federal department funding across the board. Military pay and VA benefits will generally continue under sequestration, should it come to pass. The debt ceiling, on the other hand, is a separate argument.
Currently, the Congressional Budget Office projects that we will hit the borrowing limit next month – currently set at $16.4 trillion. Divided equally among every resident of the United States, the per capita national debt is over $52,000 for every man, woman and child.
Once that happens, the President must cease borrowing. The government must then, technically, limit its spending to current revenues coming in, minus those committed to paying existing interest payments. When that happens, the government will begin bouncing checks.
Congress has been extending the debt limit to allow Presidents to finance the operation of government routinely since WWII, including 18 times under President Reagan.
In recent years, however, under pressure from fiscal conservatives and Tea Party representatives in Congress, the legislative branch has been driving a harder bargain. The government almost came to a halt in 2011, for example, when Democrats and Republicans crafted a deal at the last minute that allowed for the increase of the debt limit to today’s level of $16.4 trillion.
The government also shut down, briefly, from November 13 through November 19, 1995, and from December 15, 1995 through January 5, 1996. This occurred after Republicans swept into power in the 1994 Congressional mid-terms and elected Newt Gingrich, a representative from Georgia, as the Speaker of the House. The GOP Congress and Clinton Administration were unable to come to an agreement on the debt ceiling and forced the government to suspend much of its operations and furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers. Congress was successful in forcing a balanced budget for four years in a row, though revenues were artificially buoyed in the late 1990s by the Internet revolution and inflated equity prices.
Troops continued to be paid during that 21-day shutdown, though, because the defense spending law had already been passed.
Some Congressional Representatives, including Pat Toomey, have also proposed legislation directing the Treasury Department to keep paying active duty military pay and debt service, which is prioritized to ensure that the full faith and credit of the United States Government shall not be questioned. Failing to do so would potentially result in a default on U.S. bonds, which would cause interest rates to spike and make it much more expensive for the government to raise new debt.
Attempts to direct the Treasury Department to prioritize certain payments over others encounter a significant technical hurdle, however: The Treasury Department’s computer systems just aren’t designed to identify and prioritize millions of separate payments every day. It would take time and money to create a new system to do that.
So even if Congress does pass an eleventh-hour law exempting military pay, VA benefits, or other electoral sacred cows from interruptions as a result of the government hitting the debt ceiling, it is far from clear that the Treasury Department will be able to execute the measure.
This document from the Congressional Research Service details the processes by which some DoD functions can continue and some can be curtailed. Essential functions necessary to protect life and property can likely continue, but the troops and civilian workers actually executing the President’s orders (at Congress’s direction) would not be paid until Congress authorizes new borrowing or otherwise appropriates funds that need not be borrowed.
As a result, military pay, veterans’ benefits and contractual payments to defense contractors are all very much at risk of disruption if Congress and the President do not reach an agreement to lift the debt ceiling.
And each party to the conflict will do its best to blame the other.
President Barack Obama signed a law last week directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to set up and maintain a ‘burn-pit’ registry. This is a list of veterans who have been exposed to potentially toxic fumes emanating from diesel fuel, human excrement, and other waste and debris in Iraq, Afghanistan and other austere areas of operation.
Although burn-pits are nothing new – they date back to ancient times – NBC News has referred to burn-pit exposure as “this generation’s Agent Orange.”
This isn’t necessarily about the small latrine pits made out of 55-gallon drums. Some contractors in Iraq actually maintained massive burn pits that were hundreds of yards wide, and did so very close to troops working and living areas, in some cases. These pits used diesel fuel to burn plastics, tires, chemicals, excrement, batteries – including rare earth and heavy metal batteries.
One study measured the cancer rate among troops stationed at Balad – a major Forward Operating Base in Iraq and home to perhaps the largest burn pit in the country – and found the cancer risk was eight times higher among those troops stationed at Balad for more than a year than among the general population, controlling for age and sex. Dioxin and particulate exposure were also each 50 times higher than acceptable levels, according to a 2007 study.
The new law follows a series of lawsuits against prominent military contractors, Kellogg, Brown and Root and Halliburton, alleging that these burn pit operators failed to properly maintain these pits, mitigate hazards or warn servicemembers of the potential harmful effects of the fumes.
One suit alleges that KBR built a large burn pit upwind of troops’ living quarters – in violation of their contract and DoD directives.
The burn-pit directory will give the Department of Veterans Affairs a database of individuals with exposure to the pits, help them track long-term medical issues among this population and compare them with other groups, and facilitate communication if effective treatments are discovered.
A series of academic studies has been undertaken, and some of them have been published within the last year. At least one study found an increase in incidents of asthma and other pulmonary disorders after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The VA has not yet issued instructions on how to sign up for the burn-pit registry. It will publish instructions when the registry is up and running.
No matter where you are in life, having a natural curiosity about the world around you will take you far.
So what better gift to give this holiday season than one that sparks the imagination?
Inspirational Gift Idea #1: Memberships to a Zoo, Museum or Park
Pardon the cliché, but this truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Every major metropolitan area (and a ton of not-so-metropolitan ‘burgs) has at least one museum, park, or zoo. These magical places pay tribute to history, music, art, nature, or science and bring the very world to your doorstep. They’re appropriate for all ages (usually) and memberships often include admission to any traveling or special exhibits – check with your organization to find out. As a military service member, you can also qualify for discounted membership rates, which is an added bonus.
Inspirational Gift Idea #2: Educational Games
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are familiar with the universal appeal of the video game. Whether your family’s system of choice is the freestanding system like Wii, Playstation or Xbox or the handheld tablets like the iPad, iPod, and Android , or you prefer the PC-based games, there’s a huge array of educational, intellectually-challenging games that are fun for the whole family.
Inspirational Gift Idea #3: Magazine Subscriptions
Magazine subscriptions are great. Who doesn’t love getting something special in the mail? Not only do magazine subscriptions encourage reading, they increase the readers’ knowledge about a subject they are interested in and provide hours of fun.
These fun and imaginative gift suggestions can appeal to recipients of all ages and backgrounds.
There’s nothing quite like Christmas to tempt even the most frugal among us to go bananas and blow up our budget. But who says you have to spend a lot of money on a gift to make someone’s holiday extraordinary?
Here are a few ideas to bring big smiles without leaving big holes in your wallet.
For your forgetful-and-creative sister-in-law: The Origami Sticky Note
You can jot down your grocery list, and then fold it into the shape of a potbellied pig! Fun for everyone and good for the earth.
For your stressed out cousin: The Bubble-Wrap Keychain
Squeeze each and every one of the eight rubbery “bubbles” and delight in the satisfying popping noises. Then, do it again. Bonus: Every 100 “pops,” you hear a random surprise sound.
For the coworker who constantly tangles themselves up in their corded desk phone: The Bobino
An easy, stylish way to avoid the dreaded cord tangle. Works on anything with a cord: earbuds, phone chargers, even corded phones.
For your quirky niece: Snow-in-a-Can
Perfect for “Christmas in July” parties or whenever you feel like making a little wintry mischief. Comes with a pair of googly eyes and red scarf for potential snowman accessorizing. Snow is non-toxic and reusable.
For your favorite smartphone fan: Phoney Owl
Whoo’s calling, please? Perch the Phoney Owl in the headphone jack of your smartphone and you’ve got a steadfast companion.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that joyful time of panic-induced trips to the ER finding the perfect gifts for the beloved servicemembers in your life. And let’s face it, some military members are easier to find gifts for than others.
In the spirit of the giving season, we have scoured the malls and surfed the web to compile a collection of gift ideas for those of you needing a little spark of inspiration.
If you have someone in your life who can recite every line from every Star Trek movie, chances are good that you can find a gift for them from this composition:
The Elements Calendar
Marry a stunningly beautiful image of every known element in the universe with every month in the calendar year and voila.
Grow Your Own Carnivorous Plant Set
Create your own gauntlet of doom for the insect world with this little gem. The set comes with ten carnivorous plant seeds, plastic terrarium and potting mix plus plant decals, “bog buddies” and “swamp rocks.”
R2-D2 Lego Kit
If you’re looking for a way to really wow your favorite Star Wars fan, look no further than the plucky little droid R2-D2.
If your friend is as attached to their smartphone as they are their own fingers, make them happy this year with this pair of high-tech, capacitive gloves. The gloves keep digits nice and toasty while operating sensitive touch screen gadgets. Plus, the left glove has a speaker and a microphone sewed into the thumb and little finger for talking on the go.
This micro-robotic tank can navigate mazes, battle opponents, and offer a nice little distraction during an otherwise busy day. Even better – it’s fully controllable from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android device.
From $25, mydeskpets.com
Perfect for the game-loving tablet owner, this safe, removable joystick adds an element of real arcade action to your tablet.
Mustache Tree Ornament
Get a handle on your gift-giving with this quirky ornament. Ideal for those to whom you mustache to have a very merry Christmas. There’s not much else to add to this one.
Starting at $6, various retailers
This is a fully-functional 3-gallon fish tank inside what once contained an astounding 4 megabytes of RAM. It’s a conversation piece and a forever home for your finny friends. Each one is custom built, so contact the designer for cost.
Space Invaders Playing Cards
The original vertical alien shooting game is memorialized on a deck of playing cards, which can be used in a recreational, alien-violence-free game of poker, Old Maid, or Canasta.
Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars Bundle
Complete your favorite person’s home gaming system with this Microsoft gaming bundle that would make the rebels proud. And don’t forget to let the Wookie win.
There are just a few shopping days left before Christmas, and if you’re still scratching your head wondering what to get your guy this year, we have just the list for you.
Star Wars Severed Arm Wampa Ice Scraper
If you ride a Tauntaun to work, a frosty windshield is the least of your concerns. But for the rest of us, there’s the Wampa arm ice scraper. If you have to scrape your windshield, at least now you can feel like a Wampa while you’re doing it.
The appeal of fire is primal. Having your own fire pit is even more appealing. Fire good. Make warm. Cook food.
$89 @ Walmart
Tac Bac: Tactical Canned Bacon
If you have canned bacon, you win at everything. Period. Inside this glorious can resides eighteen servings of smoky delicious power. Eat it now, or stash it away for a future camping trip or potential apocalypse. Your call.
With one simple device, you can control any appliance that plugs into an outlet from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “mwah ha ha.”
$99 for the switch and motion bundle, belkin.com
Beardo Bendable Mo
The CO prefers clean-shaven soldiers, but facial hair does come in handy when it’s cold outside. Enter the beardo. This soft, knit cap and face-warmer comes with a bonus seven-inch bendable mustache that the wearer can fashion into any shape he chooses.
These are just a few off-the-beaten-path ideas to make your servicemember smile this holiday season.
Wishing you all the best for a happy 2013!
The Department of Defense has issued a formal notification to all soldiers currently or formerly stationed in South Carolina of a possible large-scale data breach. The breach could cause personally-identifiable information to fall into unauthorized hands, including, potentially, the hands of identity theft rings.
The South Carolina Department of Revenue has reported that hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers and the Social Security Numbers of nearly 4 million people were stolen in a series of hacker intrusions in August and September of this year.
Of those accounts, some 16,000 of them were not protected by encryption, South Carolina officials said. The breach potentially affects anyone who filed income taxes in South Carolina at any time from 1998 on.
South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, has announced that the state will provide up to one year of credit monitoring service, for free, to anyone who might have been affected by the breach and who applies for it.
DOD personnel and their family members who are current or former South Carolina taxpayers, especially those who are living abroad, are urged to visit http://www.ProtectMyId.com/SCDOR or contact Experian’s national consumer assistance center at 1-866-578-5422 by January 31, 2013, to enroll in identity theft protection.
The announcement comes at almost the same time that Nationwide Insurance reported some 1.1 million customer records have been stolen by computer hackers in recent months, as well. Nationwide reported that the records included the names, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, drivers’ license numbers and credit card numbers of people who sought auto insurance quotes online. The network that was compromised also affects users of Alliance Insurance, company officials said.
Nationwide is also offering a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection insurance to those who apply.