Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why Do Honorable Veterans Have To Pay Back Bonuses?

Recent news reports have been talking about how Iraq veterans were being asked to pay back enlistment bonuses after being forced out of the military due to injuries. Officials in the Pentagon have said that they will resolve this issue, but the fact that this problem has come up really didn't surprise me too much, as I have a similar story. I thought it horrible what happened to them, but not too surprised.

After I got out of high school, my parents were telling me that they didn't have enough money to send me to USC. Nevermind that with financial aid it would cost the same as the state school that they would have preferred I went to, but that's another story. As a result, I ended up joining the Navy Reserves.

The Navy Reserves has a Reserve GI Bill program, where if you are a drilling reservist attending college, you get a small amount of money per month. This program doesn't give you as much money as the Montgomery GI Bill that is more popular, but I also did not have to pay into it. The only attachment to accepting this money was that I remained a drilling reservist for 6 years.

That would have been all fine and good, until I decided that I kinda liked the reserves, and I didn't care too much for the starving student routine. That fall, I decided to join the Navy ROTC program. That did not pose a problem. I was a midshipmen Mondays through Fridays, and on one weekend a month, a was an Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman, drilling at Seal Beach Weapons station. It worked out fine...

Until I received a scholarship from the Navy ROTC program. You see, there's a law that says that you can not receive money from more than one government source. I'm not sure how that works, but I do know that it would have been illegal for me to continue to receive drill pay AND receive my scholarship. So I had to stop drilling. I was still serving the military, there should have been no problem, right?

Not exactly. Nobody really communicated with each other. The reservist branch of the military didn't really know how to deal with me, and even though I sent them letters and paperwork regarding my status with the military, they decided to transfer me into the Internal Ready Reserve (IRR, non-drilling status). I don't think that there are too many cases of drilling reservists joining ROTC and getting a scholarship as a midshipman. Almost every other former enlisted person that I know that went the officer route went through Boost, or the Warrant Officer program, or applied while on Active Duty. I was a fairly unique case.

Remember the agreement that I had to serve 6 years as a drilling reservist because I had received the Reserve GI Bill? I was only able to drill for about 2 of those years before I received my scholarship and was not able to drill. You think that the military would have been happy that I had chosen to serve my country in a greater capacity, and not just limit my time to one weekend a month. It didn't work out quite that way.

I started receiving letters asking for the money back. I had a collections officer call me asking for money... paying them back was not really an option since I was disputing the money for one thing, and secondly, I was living off the $3000 a semester I got from another scholarship I had earned at the time. So I argued with the collections officer a little saying that I was disputing their right to take the money, and I think that was the last I heard of that. Only it ended up on my credit report.

Time went on, and I received my commission as an officer in the United States Navy. The funny thing is... the reserves had never discharged me from the IRR. So at one point I was an Ensign in the active duty Navy, while at the same time I was also an Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class (I passed the promotion exam and got a promotion, evidently) in the Navy Reserves. My parents ended up getting some letters addressed to AMS3 me while I was an Ensign... funny.

It was funny until the day I was on deployment in the Caribbean and my husband tells me that I ended up getting paid $300 for one of my paychecks (normally they were over $1000). He had to go to Navy Relief to pay the rent that month. Anyway, the Navy Reserves thought that they were pretty smart, finding out that I was employed by the Navy, they could seize my money that they wanted from when I received Navy GI Bill money. Only they couldn't put 2 and 2 together and realize that since I was in the military... maybe I was meeting my obligations? No, they couldn't figure out that.

I had been arguing with the Navy Reserves for approximately 4 years about this problem. I would send a letter to them asking why they thought that I owed this money, they would send back a form letter saying that I didn't fulfill my obligations and had to pay back the money. I would send a letter back asking pointedly whether they thought that I didn't fulfill my obligations because I transferred to ROTC, or because I just didn't drill... they sent me back another form letter saying the same thing, that didn't answer my question.

I ended up writing my congressman, Duncan Hunter, for help. He just happened to be the chairman of the Armed Forces Service Committee (very convenient to have the chairman come from the San Diego district). While I don't think I ever voted for him before, he got me my money back, AND got the whole mess off my credit report. One credit reporting agency ended up not taking it off, but I sent a copy of my congressman's letter and it came off right away after that. So I guess you could say that it literally took an act of congress to get this straightened out. I've been a loyal Duncan Hunter supporter ever since, even though I don't live in his district any more... he has my eternal gratitude.

The story has an even better ending than that. After I got the letter from my congressman, I learned that I could get credit towards my pay for my reservist time... the longer you have been in the military, the more you get paid. I was able to get the Navy Reserves to finally discharge me, and for pay purposes, I ended up with 5 years of military service added to my time in service. My pay went up probably around $1000 a month. And not only that, but I had been underpaid for more than a year of active duty miltary service... KA CHING!!! The military owed me around $10,000, but they took out a huge chunk for taxes. Still, it was a very nice payday.

So I can sympathize with these wounded veterans who have been asked to pay back part of their bonuses. I'm glad that this is getting national attention and it will be taken care of. The last thing that I think our country should do is penalize soldiers for getting wounded on the battlefield. We should be bending over backwards to take care of them.

The military needs to consolidate their databases so they know who is where and with what branch. They need to get some common sense in their policies as well... if you are discharged from the military because you are wounded, or if you go from drilling reservist status to midshipman status... you shouldn't be treated like a scumbag who failed to fulfill your duties. I don't know how they made these wounded soldiers feel, but I know that that's how I felt for quite some time, even though I was doing the best that I could. A little bit of communication and a little bit of common sense could go very far, and avoid more disasters like these.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Real Reason Behind September 11th

I alluded to this in a comment I made in an earlier post, so before I forget about it, I'd like to write about it.

While listening to Chuck Colson speak in a Focus on the Family broadcast earlier this month, he brought up some points about September 11th. I thought I remembered hearing this before, but it really shocked me. If you want to hear the broadcast, you can log into iTunes and hear the Focus On The Family podcast from 5 November 2007, entitled "Standing Strong In A Dark World 2".

After the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, people made speculation regarding the date. Some people thought that the attacks on 9/11 referred to the US emergency telephone number 911. Some people thought that the date was chosen because 9+1+1=11 and that 11 was a message to all the people "in the know" about the New World Order. Perhaps some of that was involved, but there is a simpler explanation to those people who know their history... September 11th was the date that Polish calvary and the German infantry broke through the lines at the seige of Vienna when the (Islamic) Turks were turned back the Ottoman Empire was defeated in 1683.

Osama Bin Laden is not stupid. He would know this. The struggle between the Islamic world and Western society ended on this date. The Islamic empire was defeated... however, 318 years later, Osama Bin Laden chose to renew this struggle.

Kids sometimes like to ask why the study of history is important. Sometimes adults wonder as well. However, knowing certain events and certain dates in the past can help you understand better what's going on today, and give you a better idea of how to react to this.

If Osama Bin Laden is trying to act on the behalf of Islam and renew a world struggle, isn't that something important to know?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Revelation 18:13 - Cloning, slavery, or both?

While watching the O'Reilly Factor tonight, I was stunned when someone referred to cloned embryos as a "commodity". Not that embryos were referred to in such a fashion, but it reminded me of a verse in Revelation (in a lament about the things that Babylon had sold after it had fallen):

and cinnamon, and incenses, and ointment, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

In the NKJV it refers to bodies and souls of men being sold.

Anyway, I guess they're cloning monkeys over in Oregon right now and some people were worried that they might start cloning human embryos next. What really made me think of this verse is how this whole cloned embryo thing could perhaps take off at some point. I believe that a baby is a baby in the zygote stage, so whether you are talking about an embryo, fetus, or even a blastocyst, it's still a baby, and if it is a human baby, creating it to experiment on or harvest stem cells from (forgive me if I get my terminology wrong I don't feel it's worth the time investment to research) is morally wrong.

But let's say at some point in the future scientists do start cloning humans and start experimenting on their cells (at whatever stage). I could really see a trade of sorts developing... people would be buying and selling the bodies and souls of men as this Bible verse is referring to.

Now I know that slavery does exist today in the traditional sense that we learn about in history books. Back in the days when I had more money I did donate money to a modern abolitionist group through the Combined Federal Campaign. For more information about slavery today you can visit Up until today, I thought that Revelation 18 referred to the modern slave trade. And it probably does, to some extent. But perhaps this verse is also referring to the buying and selling of cloned embryos as well.

Another thought on the subject of cloning... if you cross a human with a mouse, what do you get? Scientists have already created these chimera-like creatures, and I'm wondering what they are. I believe that there is a divide between animals and humans and humans are not animals, and vice-versa. So what is a chimera? Is it a human or an animal? Does it have a soul? Does it need to get saved? Will it automatically go to hell? At the end, will God just destroy it and it will cease to exist? To me it's a scary thought... that God is allowing us to create these... whatevers... and who other than God knows whether these creatures need salvation or not? Or can get saved?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pat Robertson Endorses Guiliani

I'm really underwhelmed by the first-tier candidates this election. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton? I'll be praying for enough money to move to Australia if that happens. Barak Obama? Does anybody know what he stands for except for dancing well? As for the Republicans, we have a pro-choice, adulterer divorcee and a Mormon. Not that Mormons aren't nice or anything, and I think that in general Mitt Romney could do a good job, but I'm afraid that a Mormon president would make it more disagreeable to say that Mormons and Christians are of different faiths. I really like governor Huckabee, and I'd vote for him if he actually gets the nomination. He seems to be gaining in the polls, so we'll see. But he still seems to be a dark horse. I like Duncan Hunter too, mainly because back when I was in the military and was having problems, he retrieved thousands of dollars for me that the Navy had wrongfully taken from me... sometimes it helps to write to your congressman, and it paid off big time that time.

I heard today that Pat Robertson is endorsing Rudy Guiliani. I don't think that Pat Robertson's endorsement carries the weight that it did oh... 20 years ago or so, but I still find it disturbing. I know that Guiliani did really well after 9/11, but to be perfectly honest, terrorism isn't my top concern. More people die from bathtub drownings than terrorism. He's got way too many marks against him in my book. If it was just the abortion issue, that would be one thing. If it was just the divorce issue, fine. We've already had more than one adulterer in the White House, so if it was just that... okay.

Dr. James Dobson said the other day that voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for... evil. And if we're talking about human lives being saved here... a lot more people die from abortion every year than terrorism. It just doesn't impress me. Last election I voted 3rd party, and I don't regret it. If it comes down between Guiliani and Clinton, I'll vote 3rd party again.

While it seems like people know who is going to get the nomination, a lot of things could change in the next few months. Four years ago, Mr. Yippee Yee Haw Howard Dean was the front runner, but he kind of ruined his chances. So I suppose that there is still hope. But it is disappointing when a "Christian" leader endorses someone with so many strikes against him. I know that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and we should forgive, but at the same time, the Bible also doesn't have a problem from disqualifying people from certain offices due to their past. Haven't we had enough presidents being voted into office with tarnished reputations already?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Westboro Baptist vs. Free Speech

The Westboro Baptist Church, run by the Phelps family and owners of vile web sites such as "Godhatesf&$", recently lost a lawsuit for $11 Million for picketing a funeral.

Now, I really can't stand the Phelps family. I feel sorry for their kids, who know that they hate "fags", yet don't even know the meaning of the word. I think that they are the ones that need to wise up and repent, and I pray that some of their children will see the truth over what they've been taught from birth. But, I can't really say that in this case, I agree with the lawsuit. That's a really hard thing for me to say, considering how vile these people are.

The father of the deceased soldier in this case was on The O'Reilly Factor this week. He described what happened. They did have to change the parade route because of these kooks, but during the parade and memorial service, they did not see the Phelps clan (according to what the father said on the program). It was not until AFTER the memorial service that the father turned on the TV, expecting to see coverage of all the well wishers and mourners, that he saw coverage of the Phelps idiots instead.

This is America, and we are supposed to have free speech. We don't have the freedom from being offended, or from having people hurt our feelings. We aren't guaranteed that things will go our way and people will only say nice things to us. Much as I can't stand the Phelps' or their message, they do have the right to say it.

If the protesters had intruded on the funeral, I think that I would feel differently. Funerals cost money, and are normally held on private property. If someone barged in on a funeral that people had paid for and had some reasonable expectation of being relatively peaceful, I can see that there would be damages. But in this particular case, the funeral itself was not interrupted, they stayed away from the parade route, and the protesting was not seen by the family during the protest.

The message of the Westboro Baptist Church is hateful. It is unpleasant. In my opinion, it is also quite misguided and wrong. But isn't that what many people say about Christians? Many non-Christians think that being told that if they don't repent and ask Christ to be their Savior they are going to hell is hateful. They find it unpleasant. They think that it is misguided and wrong as well.

There is a difference between most Christians and those of the Westboro Baptist Church, of course. Most Christians that I know believe that God LOVES the world, which is contrary to what the Phelps clan teaches. The Phelps seem to delight in the thought of everybody that is not in their church going to hell, while most Christians that I know find it exceedingly sad and tragic. But conservative Christians (I realize that some more liberal Christians don't feel this way) do tell other people that if they don't repent and get saved, they will not be going to Heaven.

Perhaps a small settlement for pain and suffering in this case might have been appropriate. $11 million is quite a lot, however. On the other hand, to punish these people because of what they say... no matter how vile and egregious... just opens the door to other sorts of free speech lawsuits. It's only a matter of time before real Christians start being hit with lawsuits too.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

In The Internet Age, Play Nice

Most of us alive and able to read blogs remember a time when the internet was not so prevalent. That soon will not be the case, considering that I've had an email address now for over 13 years, but 13 years ago, you didn't see www plastered on every print ad and not everyone had a blog, web site, AIM address, etc. Mostly just us technogeeks back in the early days.

Having the internet around changes the way things operate, and I don't think that most of us have really gotten used to that fact yet. Specifically, that quite a large percentage of our conversations can be recorded and preserved for potentially all eternity, if the need arises.

15-20 years ago, that was not the case. You had photographs, of course. Those have been around since Lincoln was in office to one degree or another. There were videos and films... I'm sure that my grandparents still have old reel-to-reels of me hunting for Easter Eggs as a 3 year old. Then there were also tape recorders, which technically could be snuck into a room to record a conversation, but that wasn't routinely done. The answering machine came along and then you could leave messages that could be saved indefinitely.

Now, things are different. Not only do all the above ways of recording still exist, but they are more pervasive. Many people carry cell phones wherever they go, and a lot of those come equipped with cameras. Emails, texts, and instant messages can be easily saved, and are often the preferred means of communication. Internet bulletin boards exist where people discuss anything and everything.

Just because you say something, doesn't mean that it's over. Our words, preserved electronically, are out there for a very long time. There are Usenet posts of mine still floating around from my college days. What we say does not go away.

Not only that, but if you say something that you shouldn't, everybody and their mother can be notified before breakfast. Our recorded conversations can be forwarded to everyone we know, and even to those we don't, as long as we have a shared hobby and post to the same message board. If our forwarded message is outrageous enough, or deemed important enough, our friends might end up forwarding it, and their friends might forward it, until the message goes viral.

Which can get people into potential trouble.

The Yankee sales manager over at WCBS in New York is one of those people that forgot how powerful the internet can be, and that if you don't play nice, your words can come back to haunt you.

Last month, a fellow poster over on a sweepstakes web site won a $1000 watch. Supposedly, the prize was "stolen" and the radio station was going to scrounge around for some junk in it's place. Sweepstakes are governed by laws and are a form of advertising for companies... while substitution is authorized in almost every circumstance, a company always has to substitute with an item of equal or greater value, not a bunch of junk that is worth several hundred dollars less than the originally promised prize.

So in the quest to get the prize back, several phone calls were made, and the radio station couldn't get their story straight. More than one watch was stolen, but the radio station couldn't seem to figure out how many watches were stolen, because that number kept changing.

Then the sales manager left a veiled threat to this person (like he was going to sick some lawyers on her or something) on the winners answering machine. He also called her a nasty name in another phone conversation. Oops.

20 years ago, it might have been pretty easy for some fancy bigwig at some New York radio station to intimidate the little guy. Lots of people had answering machines, but they weren't very good. Certainly someone in this exact situation couldn't have notified hundreds of people about it. There would be no support system of people to give advice on what to do. You could complain to your friends about it, write a letter to his boss, call the consumer reports guy for a different station in the area, but more than likely, not much would happen.

Despite all the bad things surrounding the internet, the ability to get help and find justice is a good one. This person will more than likely get their watch. It is also likely that Mr. Not So Nice Guy's boss will find out about the situation, and while action may not be taken, probably said boss will be keeping an eye on him.

Because we live in an age where anything can be sent anywhere within minutes, it helps to play nice. It helps to follow the Bible's advice on not getting drunk as well, because those that do get drunk could find themselves the darling of YouTube the next day if they are not careful. Anything we do or say could get picked up with someone's cell phone, get talked about by our friends on the internet, etc. So it helps just to play nice to begin with. Because what we do today could follow us around longer than we can remember it ourselves.