Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Barak seeks OK to hit residential areas (in Gaza)

Barak seeks OK to hit residential areas

Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the government on Sunday to examine ways of approving IDF action against residential areas in Gaza from which rockets are fired at Israel.

Speaking during the weekly cabinet meeting, Barak said many rockets were fired from the vicinity of residential homes and schools, precluding an Israeli response due to fear of harming civilians.

Around 60 rockets and an unknown number of mortars have fallen on western Negev communities since last Tuesday evening, when the IDF raided a tunnel 250 meters inside Gaza that the army said was about to be used to kidnap troops.

In response, Barak has ordered all border crossings with Gaza to remain shut until further notice.

The Defense Ministry has also called on the government to approve an extra NIS half-billion to construct rocket-proof protective structures and complete safety rooms for 4,400 Israeli housing units in the Gaza periphery.

During Sunday's meeting, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter warned that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have improved their rocket capabilities and range, placing cities like Ashkelon - where Dichter resides - in their crosshairs.

He added that Hamas's heavy mortar shelling of the region presented a threat that could not be detected by the Color Red rocket alert system. He called for the installation of the Iron Dome rocket shield, set to be in place by 2011.

Some 8,000 homes are situated within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

On February 24, the government agreed to allocate NIS 327 million for the first stage of a program to to build security rooms for all older housing units within that radius. The first stage calls for building reinforced security rooms for all homes with tile roofs in 12 of the 21 communities within that radius.

In stage two, the government is to provide reinforced security rooms for apartment buildings with concrete roofs in Sderot. In the final stage, the government is to build reinforced security rooms for houses with tile roofs in the remaining nine communities within the 4.5-km. radius.

The communities slated for the third stage have petitioned the High Court, charging that the government is discriminating against them and in favor of the 12 communities included in the first stage of construction.

Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.

Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans join the homeless

Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans join the homeless

Ethan Kreutzer joined the Army at the age of 17 and fought with the 19th Airborne in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. When he retuned home, he had no money, no education and no civilian job experience. He soon be

June Moss drove from Kuwait to Iraq as an Army engineer in a truck convoy. When she returned to the United States, she lost her home, and drove her two young children from hotel to hotel across Northern California.

Sean McKeen, a hardy, broad-shouldered 21-year-old with a wide smile, went to Iraq to clear land mines, and to get money for college. When he returned home, he became homeless in less than a week. He found himself sleeping in a cot in a crowded homeless shelter in San Francisco.

They are all part of a growing trend of homelessness among returning war on terrorism veterans.

More than 2,000 military personnel return home to California each month. Most have no specialized job experience, education or an easy familiarity with civilian life. And many have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making it difficult to get along with friends and family, and almost impossible to hold down a job.

"You feel like the whole world is against you when you get home," said Kreutzer. "I was sleeping on the sidewalk, whereas I had been wearing a uniform less than a year before." Soft- spoken and restless, Kreutzer was recruited in a 7-Eleven while still in high school. After five months in Afghanistan, he had a mental breakdown, diagnosed as PTSD. When he returned to the United States, he spent almost four years living on the streets.

Kreutzer said he's met several veterans of the war in Iraq on the streets of San Francisco, or sleeping in Golden Gate Park. He also said he met several veterans of the war in Afghanistan, like himself, who were in similar situations.

Kreutzer now lives in a temporary housing facility for veterans on Treasure Island, run by the group Swords to Plowshares. He attends PTSD counseling with other war on terrorism veterans so that he can learn to maintain a job and house. "I was haunted by a lot of issues, a lot of things that I saw over there that were not good things. There are some times when I can wake up in a room and think I'm still there. I still remember what it tastes like, the air over there. I see all the rocks, I see the people," said Kreutzer.

One of the symptoms of PTSD is isolation and withdrawal, according to Amy Fairweather, director of the Iraq Veterans project at Swords to Plowshares. "So that interferes with your ability to get a job. People sit in the dark by themselves," she said.

Fairweather is seeing large numbers of homeless war on terrorism veterans come through her doors.

"Homelessness can happen very quickly, if they don't get the help they need. Their mental health will get worse, they will become more depressed," she said. "We are seeing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who are homeless, coming in very quickly. After Vietnam, it generally took about five to 10 years to end up on the streets. We're seeing people on the streets three months after they come home."

Moss spent 12 years with the military and had purchased a house with a VA home loan, but she fell behind on payments.

"When I got back from Iraq, I knew something was wrong," she said. Diagnosed with PTSD, she found herself awake at night devising ways to keep her family safe. "I decided to move the refrigerator in front of the door to bunker us in," she said. "Then I would stay up all night baking cookies because I didn't want to go to sleep. Eventually, I stopped leaving the house altogether."

Moss lost her job and her income, and the bank foreclosed on her home.

She moved her two kids between temporary housing units and hotels until her PTSD was under control. Now, she has a temporary house for her family, and a full-time job at the VA. "It's because of my kids that I go to therapy and take my medication. If it wasn't for them, I don't know what would happen," she said.

Other veterans are not so lucky. McKeen was exposed to more than 300 bomb blasts in Iraq. He suffers from traumatic brain injury as well as PTSD. When he returned home, he slept on couches at friends' houses, and in his car while looking for a job. He spent many nights wandering the streets before he ended up in a shelter.

"It's like a culture shock returning home, but you are supposed to be used to it," he said. "Unless you are in war, nobody can understand what it's like. And they expect you to just function normally by yourself after that?"

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates about 2,000 war on terrorism veterans have become homeless upon returning to the United States. It's still a small number, when compared to the staggering numbers of homeless Vietnam War-era veterans, but one that could balloon in the coming months.

At the Palo Alto VA, the inpatient programs for PTSD and TBI are crowded with war on terrorism veterans - an indication that a large number are at risk for homelessness, according to director of homeless programs Keith Harris.

"Before it gets to the point where someone is living on the street, what they are typically doing is struggling with a mental health disorder, burning their bridges with the people around them, family, employers, spouses," he said. " I don't believe there is a large chunk of returnees literally homeless without a roof over their heads, but I think a large chunk of them are at risk for it."

The homeless shelter at the Palo Alto VA is full. And many veterans still complain that the VA is unprepared and overly bureaucratic. Most have to wait six to eight months for claims to be addressed.

But by all accounts, the VA is far better prepared this time than it ever has been in the past. With an understanding that the looming homeless crisis is best treated as a mental health issue, it has hired 17,000 mental health workers, making it the largest mental health program in the country.

But with some 2 million active service members still fighting and undergoing the trauma of war, Moss wonders if any amount of preparation by the VA can address the fundamental problem of readjustment.

"I think the problem is war itself," she said. "War changes a person. I talk to all vets. The same experiences we had coming home from Iraq are the same experience World War II (vets) saw, Vietnam saw, Korean War saw, so it hasn't changed. I think the real problem is probably just war itself."

Anna Sussman is a journalist who has reported from the United States, Africa and Asia. To comment, e-mail

This article appeared on page B - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008


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Ohio : Over 115% voter turnout in two precincts,
106% in another.

Precincts are reporting a margin of error of 100 within a group of 1000.

Is this any where close to a reasonable amount of error?

But its OK, since Obama won - right?

Brunner scolds Franklin County for glitch

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner criticized the Franklin County Board of Elections yesterday for a glitch involving provisional ballots Tuesday and had little sympathy for complaints about paper ballots delaying vote results.

Brunner said it was "clearly unacceptable" that up to 35,000 county voters might have had to cast a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot because of a problem with the county's voter database.

While a regular ballot is counted on election night, provisional ballots -- which typically are cast by voters who don't have proper identification or move and don't update their registration -- are held for 10 days to verify eligibility.

"We'll be closely monitoring that situation, and we will work with the board to determine why the error occurred so that we can prevent that from happening again," Brunner said.

A data-processing error is thought to be responsible for flagging qualified voters in poll books, along with those whose address-verification cards were returned in the mail as undeliverable. Those voters are required to cast a provisional ballot.

Phone calls alerted the board to the problem. Poll workers got an automated phone call around 9:30 a.m. instructing them to disregard that flag and let those voters cast regular ballots.

A count of voters affected and an investigation into the matter will wait until next week, after mandatory post-election work is done, said Deputy County Elections Director Matthew Damschroder. He said it's not clear how large the problem was.

Brunner also was critical of the fact that Franklin County was citing the need to process paper ballots as one of the reasons for delaying well into yesterday evening the release of final, unofficial results.

County elections officials said they were swamped trying to process the flood of late absentee ballots as well as 14,450 paper ballots cast at the polls, in addition to the county's electronic touch-screen results.

Damschroder argued that counties should have one primary voting system, and that it's asking too much of counties that use touch-screen systems to handle so many paper ballots at the polls, as well.

But Brunner insisted that the paper ballots are for the convenience of the voter to help ease long lines and as a back-up if machines fail -- and counties that embrace the concept will perform better.

Montgomery, Butler and Stark counties also had delays that officials blamed on paper ballots, but Brunner said they use a different vendor than Franklin that doesn't have a high-speed scanner certified for use by the federal government.

Meanwhile, although Brunner didn't want to say it yesterday, state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern didn't hesitate: Tuesday's relatively smooth election was vindication for Brunner.

Brunner, a first-term Democrat, faced almost constant criticism from Ohio GOP Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine and Republicans nationwide --- including lawsuits and accusations that she was trying to "steal" the election.

"The only person in the state of Ohio who thought that there would be problems with how the elections would be held is Kevin DeWine and perhaps his attorney," Redfern said.

Redfern also said the GOP focus on Brunner, who was not on the ballot Tuesday but will face re-election in 2010, distracted the Republicans and allowed Democrats to "focus on our strengths."

"Had the Republicans focused on their candidates and their message, if they had one, I think they would have been an equal opponent to the Democrats," he said. "In this case, Jennifer Brunner continues to be an excellent secretary of state."

Neither DeWine nor a spokesman for the Ohio GOP could be reached yesterday. DeWine has a postelection press conference scheduled today.

When asked whether she felt vindicated by Tuesday's election, Brunner would say only that her goal was to help restore voter confidence in the state's much-maligned voting process after the problems in 2004.

"It just disappointed me," Brunner said of the GOP accusations. "I thought that a political party could do better than that, and frankly, if I were a member of a party that was being that negative, I would get tired of it."

Some Ohio votes double-counted

COLUMBUS: Elections officials say some electronic votes were counted twice in the unofficial returns reported by Franklin County, which includes Columbus.

The affected precincts are part of central Ohio's 15th Congressional District, where the race between Republican Steve Stivers and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy remains too close to call.

Franklin County Board of Elections Director Michael Stinziano said the miscounts will be fixed today. He said it was a very smooth election overall.

One Columbus precinct has 1,066 registered voters but posted 1,138 votes. In suburban Worthington, a precinct has 534 registered voters but counted 633 votes, and another has 951 registered voters but reported 1,095 votes