The problems the Marine Corps is having with its F/A-18 Hornet force have been a boon to one plane that was originally slated to go to the boneyard much earlier.
According to Foxtrot Alpha, the AV-8B Harrier has recently gained a new lease on life as upgrades are keeping the famed “jump jet” in service. In fact, the Harrier force has become more reliable in recent years, even as it too sees the effects of aging.
The Marine Corps is planning to replace both the F/A-18C/D Hornets and the AV-8B Harriers with the F-35B Lightning II, the Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35B has already been deployed to Japan, while the F-35A, operating from conventional land bases, just recently deployed to Estonia.
Originally, the Harriers were slated to be retired first, but the delays on the F-35 and a review that not only changed how the Marines used the Harrier, but also discovered that the Harrier airframes had far more flight hours left in the than originally thought gave them a new lease on life.
As a result, the Marines pushed through upgrades for the Harrier force, including newer AMRAAM missiles and the GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition, a 500-pound system that combined both GPS guidance with a laser seeker. Other upgrades will keep the Harriers flying well into the 2020s.
Capt. Jonathan Lewenthal and Capt. Eric Scheibe, AV-8B Harrier pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 231, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over southern Helmand province, Afghanistan after conducting an aerial refuel Dec. 6, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gregory Moore)
The Harrier has been a Marine Corps mainstay since 1971 – often providing the close-air support for Marines in combat through Desert Storm and the War on Terror. The Harrier and Sea Harrier first made their mark in the Falklands War, where the jump jets helped the United Kingdom liberate the disputed islands after Argentinean military forces invaded.
The upcoming movie “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” highlights the veteran security team who protected the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya during the 2012 attack. Below is a list of weapons the defenders used to valiantly defend the compound:
1. Western assault rifles
Private security contractors who are alums of elite US military units often prefer the same weapons they carried in the service such as the SCAR-L or M4 assault rifles that fire 5.56mm rounds. If they want to up the caliber a little, they can go with the SCAR-H or M14, which both use a 7.62mm round.
Obviously, this results in a number of contractors carrying Kalashnikovs. This was especially prevalent in the early 2000s in Iraq when the State Department started hiring private companies for overseas security but hadn’t yet begun issuing them the needed licenses to import weapons.
3. Grenade launchers
While private military contractors are generally associated with lighter weapons, they’re sometimes authorized mass-casualty inflicting systems like M203 or M320 grenade launchers. The grenade launcher at Benghazi was one of the defenders’ most effective weapons.
Shotguns can be loaded with buckshot to cripple all enemies in a confined area or slugs to immediately shutdown a single target. They also allow contractors to quickly “unlock” doors if they need to evacuate their client.
It’s been years since knights were last sent into battle wearing insanely heavy and uncomfortable metal suits for protection against swords and arrows.
But as it turns out, while knights are now a thing of the past, their armor is still in use today with at least one special operations police unit in Germany. That’s right… Germany’s elite “SEK” Spezialeinsatzkommandos (Special Deployment Commandos in English) are sometimes sent into sticky situations wearing chain mail suits of armor.
Though they’ve traded in long swords and sabers years ago for Heckler Koch submachine guns and Sig pistols, these German cops still utilize chain mail armor to protect themselves in close quarters missions against terrorists, hostage takers, or even just your run-of-the-mill deranged knife-wielder.
While chain mail armor isn’t enough to stop bullets or anything that can penetrate at high velocities, it’s still pretty effective against close-in attacks using blades or sharp objects. Mail consists of small metal ringlets woven together to form a mesh-like sheet. These sheets are then fashioned into wearable coats and pants which still allow the wearer a fair degree of movement.
Last year, SEK operatives were spotted wearing chain mail while responding to a mentally-disturbed 21 year-old threatening to kill randomly with a pruning saw. Later on, images began surfacing of commandos donning mail shirts and hoods in urban settings, wearing a weird blend of modern tactical gear and the ancient mesh armor.
These German commandos have been known to wear their mail suits above or beneath their gear, depending on the scenario they face and their role in resolving it. Hostage or suicide negotiations would generally prompt the wearing of the armor above a Kevlar bulletproof vest and radio, for example.
According to Stefan Schubert in his book, “Inside Police: The Unknown Side of Everyday Police,” the SEK are easily some of the most high-speed special operations police units in the world, having been formed in the 1970s in West Germany to tackle hostage situations, provide protection for dignitaries, and rapid armed response to terrorist threats.
Around the same time, a similar East German police force known as Service Unit 9 was also established. Both were merged under the SEK name and mission after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany at the end of the Cold War.
SEK teams are more like highly-developed SWAT teams in the US, attached to German state police agencies across the country. Their federal counterpart is the legendary GSG 9 of the Bundespolizei, home to some of the best counterterrorist operatives today.
An SEK commando covering an assault during a demonstration in Dortmund, circa 2013 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The recruitment process to join an SEK team is extremely strenuous, and the ensuing selection phase has a high attrition rate. Candidates typically face between 6 to 8 months of physical, tactical and environment-specific training before being declared operational. Additional training includes skiing, snowmobiling and scuba diving.
When placed on active status, an SEK commando can choose virtually any tactical loadout that fits their preferences and mission. Operatives are also given a lot of leeway in uniforms, often choosing to be in plainclothes in order to blend into crowds and work unnoticed.
However, when on mission, you can generally tell an SEK commando apart from a regular police officer by the fact that they always cover their faces with balaclavas to protect their identities — standard procedure for all SEK teams throughout Germany.
But if ever the balaclava isn’t enough to give away their presence, just look for the guy toting a tricked-out carbine wearing Medieval armor and tennis shoes.
For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.
Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.
Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.
The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.
According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.
“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”
The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.
Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”
A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.
One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.
TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”
Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.
Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.
In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.
Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.
Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.
In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.
One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.
In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.
But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.
The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.
Senator John McCain.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.
The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.
The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.
Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.
Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.
Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.
Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.
John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.
“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.
Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.
(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)
After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.
Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.
The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.
The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.
The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.
TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.
The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.
“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”
The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.
“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”
Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.
“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”
The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.
But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.
TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.
In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”
Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”
McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”
But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.
McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”
McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.
“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”
The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.
The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.
That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.
“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”
Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.
This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.
This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.
Most people in the U.S. will be exposed to the coronavirus, according to the National Institutes of Health. But not everyone with COVID-19 develops a cough and fever. For every infected person who shows symptoms, five to ten others are asymptomatic, meaning they look and feel just fine for the duration of having the virus, but are spreading the virus fast. This is what social distancing is all about: Stay home, wash your hands often, clean your space and hopefully you’ll be able to avoid the asymptomatic spread. But when someone in your house is showing symptoms or simply knows that they’ve come into contact with someone who has been tested and found to have the virus a different kind of quarantine is required. You need a quarantine within a quarantine. The infected need to isolate within your own home.
In these situations, the goal is to isolate the sick person from the world, and the members of their household, for two weeks. It isn’t easy, but there are steps to take that can give those not infected a fighting chance. Here’s how to proceed.
This Is the Time for a Mask
While there has been much controversy over masks — primarily aimed at those healthy folks hoarding them while hospitals run out — if you have someone sick at home, they should be wearing one while around others in the house. If they don’t own one, you can try making your own out of household materials or cover your mouth with a bandana. “In this critical time we’re having, anything is better than nothing,” says Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Leave Them Alone
Designate a room in your house where those who are sick can spend the next two weeks, and stay out of it as much as possible. If you don’t have a bedroom they can hole up in alone, keep your distance. “The most important thing is to try to stay six feet away from one another,” says Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association. Don’t let visitors into the home, especially those at high risk, such as grandparents.
If the sick person does have a room of their own, check up on them several times per day. Ask how they’re doing through the door or give them a video call if they aren’t too ill. If the infected person has more serious symptoms, you may have to venture inside, but take precautions including distance and gloves. If the person feels well enough to bend down, leave their meals outside the door.
Of course, sending a five-year-old to their room for two weeks is basically impossible. Don’t panic. “You do the best you can,” Benjamin says. Reduce your risk of infection by cleaning surfaces kids touch frequently, such as toys. Pay attention to your own cleanliness, too. “The most practical thing for most parents is to simply wash their hands as often as they can,” Benjamin says.
If a surface is visibly dirty, first clean it with a detergent and water. Then, disinfect it with a product that can kill viruses, such as bleach. Even if they look clean, wipe down high-touch surfaces with detergent and water often, including doorknobs, counters, tables, light switches, remote controls, cabinet handles, and sink handles. “The more frequently, the better,” Thomas says, but at least once daily. Use disposable gloves while cleaning, and don’t reuse them.
Appoint a bathroom for those who are ill, or, if you only have one, make sure it has good airflow. If the whole family must share a bathroom, immediately clean and disinfect after the sick person uses it.
Family members should not clean the room of someone who is ill, though the sick person may clean their own room if they’re up to the task. The sick person should use their own lined trash can, and family members should wear disposable gloves while disposing of the bag. Household members should also use gloves while doing the sick person’s laundry and washing their dishes.
Holy Crap, Is It Ever Time to Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands often, for at least twenty seconds after using the bathroom, before eating, and after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. Don’t share towels to dry your hands on. In fact, don’t share anything, including unwashed dishes and eating utensils. Avoid touching your face and wash laundry thoroughly, particularly if it is soiled by bodily fluids.
Hopefully Your Dog’s Loyalty Lies With the Quarantined
“We want to keep all of our family members healthy, and that includes our furry family members,” Thomas says. Though there are no cases of pets contracting COVID-19, sick family members should avoid petting their cats and dogs and should ask a different household member to care for them. If the sick person must pet a pup, they should wash their hands before and after contact and wear a facemask while interacting. They should also avoid sharing a bed with their fur baby.
How to Feed Yourself
If you’re anything like the rest of the country, you probably have a sufficient stockpile of snacks. If you do run out of food, don’t go to the grocery store. Stock up your pantry using an online grocery service or order delivery from a restaurant. Pay online beforehand and ask the deliverer to leave the package outside your front door. You can also ask a neighbor or relative to deliver a care package to your door.
5 Signs You Need to Go to the Emergency Room
Before you go to the ER, call ahead. Let them know if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
Difficulty breathing: If breathing is painful or hard to do, seek immediate help.
Blue around the lips: A blue tint to the lips, tongue, and skin of the face means you may not be getting enough blood flow to your head.
Fever that won’t come down: If medications such as Tylenol can’t bring down your fever, seek help.
Chest pain: Though many people with COVID-19 may feel chest pain, significant pain deserves an emergency call.
Worsening of other conditions: The virus can exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
Venezuela has descended into a political crisis after years of economic turmoil and a note from National security Adviser John Bolton has floated the idea of sending 5,000 U.S. troops there to help end the political standoff by backing one of the claimants to the presidency, Juan Guaidó. So, what’s exactly going on? And what could 5,000 troops actually accomplish?
Let’s start with the recent history of the country. If you vaguely remember a lot of protests on your TV as well as a lot of social media commentary around whether or not socialism was bad, chances are you’re remembering Venezuela.
Basically, Venezuela was a U.S.-aligned democracy for much of the Cold War, but a movement towards socialism was championed by populist Hugo Chavez (you’ve likely heard of him) who was elected president in 1998 and took office in February 1999. Chavez’s populist priorities immediately ran into trouble as low oil prices and other economic problems made his socialist overhaul of the country unaffordable.
Chavez cemented his hold by training up a paramilitary loyal to him, issuing decrees, and spreading propaganda, all of which eventually triggered protests and uprisings against him. Chavez survived a coup attempt in 2002. Allegations that the U.S. assisted in the coup persist to this day, even though Chavez, senior coup leaders, and the U.S. have all either denied it or said it was unlikely.
After the coup, rising oil prices allowed Chavez to finally follow through on many of his campaign promises and buy loyalty.
So, the Chavez era was rocky, to say the least, but it became worse when he died in 2013 and Nicolás Maduro took over.
Nicolás Maduro. The usage rights for this photograph require that it not be used in a way that would disparage the coat of arms or flag, so we can’t comment on how humorous it would or would not be for a chubby man, famous for eating on public TV while his country starved, dressed up in the Venezuelan colors and posed in front of a lean Simón Bolívar.
(Government of Venezuela)
Maduro lacks the charisma and the political history that Chavez enjoyed, and he ran right into the same fallen oil price problems that had plagued Chavez. His attempts to hold onto power amid growing unrest and economic scarcity failed, and uprisings, extreme scarcity, and starvation have plagued the country in recent years.
And all of that has led up to the 2018 elections which resulted in Maduro carrying all 23 states and about 68 percent of the vote; but there were tons of irregularities in the election, and less than a third of the population trusted the government to hold a free and fair election.
After the elections, continuing protests led to National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaidó declaring himself acting president. America reportedly voiced support for the move secretly ahead of time, but the U.S. definitely voiced public support after the fact, with Vice President Mike Pence recording a video addressing the Venezuelan people.
March for peace in 2015. Peace has struggled a bit in the years since.
(Carlos Díaz, CC BY 2.0)
So, yeah, people have different ideas of who the proper president of Venezuela is, but the U.S. is officially backing Guaidó as interim president, and National Security Adviser Bolton showed off a legal pad with a note about sending 5,000 troops to the country, ostensibly to back up Guaidó.
We won’t get into the politics of the discussion, but what could 5,000 troops do successfully in the country when the actual military has 515,000 personnel, counting the national guard and militia? After all, America sent 26,000 troops to Panama to oust Noriega, and Panama had around 15,000 troops at the time. Fewer than 4,000 were actual soldiers.
U.S. Marines are less welcome on some doorsteps than missionaries. Our guess is that Maduro would rather see the missionaries.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danielle A. Baker)
The quick answer is: not much. 5,000 troops would be more a show of support than an actual military deterrent. At most, the troops could secure a few buildings or key locations. But, given the political fracturing in the country, that actually might be enough to tip the scales in Guaidó’s favor, hopefully without triggering a major conflict.
First, Maduro’s control of the military appears to be quite fragmented. There are still supporters of democracy and capitalism in the country as well as a larger base of support for true socialism instead of the crony socialism under Maduro, who has eaten pies on TV while his people starved. The Venezuelan military seems to have a quiet minority that would support a change in leadership even though most high-level military leaders are in place due to appointments made by Maduro.
So, 5,000 U.S. troops combined with the hollow support in the ranks for Maduro might give Maduro supporters pause before they use force to put down Guaidó’s bid.
You really don’t want these guys to show up in the plains near your capital city.
If the U.S. followed up its recognition of Guaidó by recognizing the tribunal, it could bolster support for Guaidó and give legitimacy for the court. And 5,000 troops are more than enough to protect the court if it returned to Venezuela.
Finally, the presence of 5,000 U.S. troops, regardless of their deployment and stated mission, always ups the ante. Attacking the 5,000 risks American retaliation from warships and submarines that could be lurking off coast or quickly deployed nearby. Fun fact: the U.S. Navy could hit wide swaths of Panama from the Atlantic or the Pacific, provided the ships firing from Pacific side have the permission of Panama and/or Colombia.
And the U.S. Air Force could quickly muster planes for strikes out of Puerto Rico if necessary. The U.S. has an Air National Guard base only 560 miles from Caracas, meaning F-22s could hit the capital as long as they could top off on gas from a tanker flying over the Caribbean Sea.
But, the best thing could be 5,000 troops as a sort of threatening token never deployed. Bolton can exert pressure on Maduro and his government just by showing up at a press conference with two lines of ink on a legal pad. If that gives National Assembly supporters enough ammo to push Maduro from power without more violence, great.
But it does raise the specter that the threat of a U.S. troop deployment will make an actual deployment more necessary.
Bonnie Carroll, the founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House on November 24. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Carroll founded TAPS after her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, TAPS provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of a military family member. The organization’s programs like Good Grief camps and National Military Survivor seminars have brought effective comfort and care to families of the fallen since 1994, most acutely in the years since 9-11.
“This is a tremendous honor,” Carroll told WATM immediately following the ceremony. “It’s a recognition of American respect and reverence for all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and the families they loved and left behind.”
Sixteen others were recognized by President Obama during the event including entertainers James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, and Barbara Streisand, baseball legend Willie Mays, lawmakers Shirley Chisholm and Lee Hamilton, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, composer Stephen Sondheim, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
“It was wonderful to meet [the other awardees],” Carroll said. “Gloria Estefan lost her dad in the Army, so she’s kind of a TAPS kid. And Steven Spielberg was telling me about a project he’s working on to bring awareness to those dealing post traumatic stress and veteran suicide. So this was a tremendous opportunity to meet those who’ve made a difference in the county and also take our work forward.”
Carroll is also a retired major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.
“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” President Obama said during the ceremony.
For more about the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors go here.
Where did the thrift savings plan come from and why do you need it?
In the beginning there was work; and then people died. Back in the day, American civilians simply worked until they couldn’t work anymore, and then they either relied on family to care for them, or they passed away. In the mid 1800s, a couple of companies took a look at the military’s retirement system and decided to give it a try.
The Thrift Savings Plan as we know it came into effect long after the civilian version of retirement due to the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986. The TSP is the public sector’s version of the 401(k) that was established under the Revenue Act of 1978.
But the TSP was not the military’s first pension plan. According to Pension Research Council, pensions for the military predate the Constitution, but the U.S. Navy and Army struggled to manage pension funds — so much in fact that the new government had to bail them out at least three separate times.
Despite early issues with managing pension funds, the Army and the Navy continued to offer them as a means to attract and retain men in the services.
Eventually corporate America got on board and started to adopt its own retirement system modeled after the public pension system offered by the American military.
The private pension system was designed to reward line workers (those who worked in factories or on production lines) for years of service to one company. This worked both to the advantage of the individual as many skills were not transferable outside of a specific industry, and to employers because it guaranteed most of their employees would be loyal to them.
There were two problems with the way the pension system was set up: companies had to figure out how much money every year to set aside based on the number of employees they had, and many companies mismanaged that money just as the military had a century prior.
Thus, the 401(k) Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, was born by an act of Congress in 1978. With this system, employers agreed to set a predetermined amount of money aside, and employees agreed to manage it themselves.
As a result of the remodeling of the private pension system, our modern day public pension (the Thrift Savings Plan) was designed nearly a decade after the private pension plan.
So why do you need a TSP? Regular military retirement pay was never intended to fully provide for normal retirement.
The TSP was designed to supplement retirement pay, and while it is optional for military members, it makes money sense to set aside funds throughout your career to supplement the retirement pay that was never intended to fully financially support you.
In short, the TSP makes sense, and you should have one.
For more information on the TSP, you can check out the Thrift Savings Plan website.
The Marine Corps will present the third-highest combat award to an Iraq War veteran on Thursday, following a review that upgraded his commendation.
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Glenn M. Walters, is slated to present the Silver Star Medal to Capt. Andrew Kim, an officer serving with Marine Corps Logistics Operations Group, at the Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms on Thursday.
The ceremony stems from a Pentagon initiative to review all valor awards after Sept. 11, 2001. Kim initially received a Bronze Star Medal for valorous actions performed on Aug. 6, 2003, while serving as a counterintelligence specialist with Task Force Scorpion of the 1st Marine Marine Division in Iraq, according to a press release issued Monday by the Marine Corps.
An Iraqi man approached Kim, his team chief, a linguist and a source. He suddenly drew a pistol and shot Kim’s team chief in the neck.
A sergeant at the time, Kim immediately returned fire, killing the assassin. He was then hit repeatedly by small arms fire from the rear. Disregarding his own wounds, Kim ushered his fallen team chief into a vehicle and exited the ambush’s kill zone, pursued by five Iraqis in a white pickup truck.
His vehicle sprayed by volleys of enemy fire, Kim drove to a light armored reconnaissance security element and ordered a deadly counterattack on the enemy — “bold” actions theMarine Corps concluded showed “undaunted courage and complete dedication to duty,” plus “gallantry and effectiveness under fire” that “saved the lives of all those conducting the mission,” according to this award citation.
Unless their name is Remy and they’re adept at preparing French cuisine in an animated Disney movie, rats are often viewed negatively by humans. Despite this, rats have served humans as medical and scientific test subjects including cancer research and space travel. However, one rat has gone above and beyond in his service to the human race.
Magawa is a seven-year-old male African giant pouched rat working in Cambodia where he employs a very special skill. Trained by the Belgian-registered APOPO charity, Magawa has the ability to detect landmines and alert his human handlers to their presence. APOPO specializes in training rats to detect both landmines in the earth and tuberculosis in human sputum samples. The rats are referred to as HeroRATs and are certified for their specialized task after a year of training.
The HeroRATs are trained to detect specific chemical compounds found in explosives. This means that they are not distracted or confused by scrap metal and are more efficient at locating buried landmines. When they do find a landmine, the rats are trained to scratch the earth in order to alert their human handlers. The HeroRATs “significantly speed up land mine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory,” said APOPO’s chief executive Christophe Cox. “This not only saves lives, but returns much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.” According to the HALO Trust, the world’s largest landmine clearance charity, landmines and other unexploded ordnance in Cambodia have resulted in over 64,000 injuries and 25,000 recorded amputations since 1979.
Magawa was born and raised in Tanzania, weighs 2.6 pounds and measures 28 inches long. Though he and his African giant pouched rat brethren are significantly larger than other species of rat, they are small and light enough to step on the landmines that they are seeking without detonating them. Magawa is capable of clearing a tennis court-sized field in just 20 minutes. APOPO says that the same field would require up to four days for a human to clear with a traditional metal detector. Magawa has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions and cleared over 1.5 million square feet of land in his four-year career.
Magawa sniffs for explosives (PDSA)
For his incredible accomplishments and service, Magawa was recognized by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British animal charity founded in 1917 during WWI. The PDSA presented Magawa with their Gold Medal on September 25, 2020. The medal bears the inscription “For animal gallantry or devotion to duty” and has been awarded to 30 animals, of which Magawa is the first rat. “Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women, and children who are impacted by these landmines,” said PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”
Although he is the most successful mine-detecting HeroRAT, Magawa works just one half hour in the mornings. “He is very quick and decisive,” said Malen, Magawa’s main handler, “but he is also the first one to take a nap during a break.” Malen’s last name has been withheld for privacy. In his downtime, Magawa enjoys running on his wheel and is partial to snacks of bananas, peanuts, and watermelons. “He is very special to me,” Malen said of Magawa. The two have been working together for four years.
As HeroRATs generally have a field career of four to five years, Magawa is nearing retirement. APOPO says that once they enter retirement, they are given plenty of play and exercise. In the meantime, a PDSA spokesperson expects that Magawa will receive a more practical reward in addition to his medal. “I hear he’s partial to bananas and peanuts,” Emily Malcolm said, “so I’m sure he will be getting a few extra treats.”
Almost everyone gets email forwards from their family. In the days before social media, people emailed the jokes, memes, and urban legends that populate Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest today. These days, it’s mostly older people that stick to forwarding emails instead of sharing via social media.
Loved ones forward things to veterans wanting to know if something about the military or life in the military is true.
This one has been circulating around the internet for a while. Its origins are hard to trace, but the authors — whomever they may be — pinpointed some of the more bizarre aspects of military life by trying to find a civilian equivalent. It’s funny to look back at things military personnel and veterans accept as a part of life, no matter how strange it may seem from the outside looking in.
65 ways civilians can simulate military life:
1. Dig a big hole in your back yard and live in it for 30 days straight.
2. Go inside only to clean the house. On weekends, you can eat in the house, but you can’t talk.
3. Pour 10 inches of nasty, crappy water into your hole, then shovel it out, stack sandbags around it and cover it with a sheet of old plywood.
4. Fill a backpack with 50 pounds of kitty litter. Never take it off outdoors. Jog everywhere you go.
5. Every couple of weeks, dress up in your best clothes and go the scummiest part of town, find the most run down trashy bar you can, pay $10 per beer until you’re hammered, then walk home in the freezing cold.
6. Perform a weekly disassembly and inspection of your lawnmower.
7. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, turn the water pressure in your shower down to a trickle, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, turn it up so hard it peels skin. On Saturdays and Sundays, declare to your entire family that they can’t use the shower in order to keep it clean for inspection.
8. Go inside and make your bed every morning. Have your wife tear the blankets off at random during the day. Re-make the bed each time until it is time to go back outside and sleep in your hole.
9. Have your next door neighbor come over each day at 5am, and blow a whistle so loud that Helen Keller could hear it and shout “Get up! Get up! You are moving too slow! Get down and do push-ups!”
10. Have your mother-in-law write down everything she’s going to do the following day, then have her make you stand in the back yard at 6am and read it to you.
11. Eat the raunchiest Mexican food you can find for three days straight, then lock yourself out of the bathroom for 12 hours. Hang a sign on the bathroom door that says, “Unserviceable.”
12. Submit a request form to your father-in-law, asking if it’s ok for you to leave your house before 5pm.
13. Invite 200 of your not-so-closest friends to come over. Have them all dig holes in your yard to live in. After 30 days, fill in the holes and wave at your friends and family through the front window of your home as you set out for a 25 mile walk and After-Action-Review.
14. Shower with above-mentioned friends.
15. Make your family qualify to operate all the appliances in your home (i.e. Dishwasher operator, blender technician, etc.).
16. Walk around your car for 4 hours checking the tire pressure every 15 minutes. Write down on a piece of paper everything you want the shop to fix the next time you bring the car in. Give your wife the list to throw away.
17. Sit in your car and let it run for 4 hours with the windows down before going anywhere. Tune the radio to static and monitor it while letting the car run. If it is cold outside, don’t run the heat. Sleep on the hood or roof of your car.
18. Empty all the garbage bins in your house, and sweep your driveway 3 times a day, whether they need it or not.
19. Repaint your entire house once a month. Paint white rings around all the trees in your neighborhood. Paint all curbs yellow. Paint all rocks red.
20. Cook all of your food blindfolded, groping for any spice and seasoning you can get your hands on.
21. Use eighteen scoops of budget coffee grounds per pot, and allow each pot to sit 5 hours before drinking.
22. Have your neighbor collect all your mail for a month, read your magazines, and randomly lose every 5th item.
23. Spend $20,000 on a satellite system for your TV, but only watch CNN and the Weather Channel when you are inside to eat. Tune the tint on the TV to green.
24. Avoid watching your green tinted TV with the exception of movies which are played in the middle of the night. Have the family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.
25. Have your 5-year-old cousin give you a haircut with goat shears.
26. Sew big pockets to the legs of your pants. Don’t use them.
27. Spend 2 weeks sleeping in holes in your neighbor’s lawns and call it a deployment.
28. Spend a year sleeping in holes in your local area and call it world travel.
29. Attempt to spend 5 years working at McDonald’s and NOT get promoted.
30. Ensure that any promotions you do get are from stepping on the dead bodies of your co-workers.
31. Blast heavy metal music on your stereo and conduct Ranger PT, grass drills, and sprints on your front lawn after your neighbors have gone to bed.
32. When your children are in bed, run into their room with a megaphone and shout at the top of your lungs that your home is under attack, and order them to man their fighting positions. Don’t let them eat or sleep again for two days.
33. Make your family menu a week ahead of time and do so without checking the pantry and refrigerator.
34. Post a menu on the refrigerator door informing your family that you are having steak for dinner. Then make them wait in line for at least an hour. When they finally get to the kitchen, tell them that you are out of steak, but you have dried ham or hot dogs. Repeat daily until they don’t pay attention to the menu anymore so they just ask for hot dogs.
35. When baking a cake, prop up one side of the pan while it is in the oven. Spread icing on real thick to level it off.
36. In the middle of January, place a gate at the end of your street. Have your family stand watches at the gate, rotating at 4-hour intervals.
37. Make your family live with you in your hole for 6 weeks. Then tell them that at the end of the 6th week you’re going to take them to Disneyland for “block leave.” When the end of the 6th week rolls around, inform them that Disneyland has been canceled due to the fact that they need to get ready for Individual Skill Certification, and that it will be another week before they can go back into the house.
38. In your hole (refer to #1), with 200 of your not-so-closest friends (see para. 13), get the flu.
39. Sleep in a thicket of blackberries or rose bushes. Tie a string to your foot that runs to the house. Have your wife yank on the string about 3 hours after you go to sleep. Crawl out of the bushes and go to the house to see what she wants. She should then shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble, “Just making sure you’re okay.”
40. Do not sleep from 1:00 a.m. Monday mornings until 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoons. Tie a branch around your neck and chew on sand to stay awake.
41. When there is a thunderstorm in your area, dig a trench into your hole so that it fills up with water. During the worst part of the storm, get out of your hole and go for a 12 mile walk.
42. Don’t change your socks for a week. After they disintegrate off with pieces of your feet, put on an unbroken pair of new boots and go for a 12-mile walk.
43. For mechanized infantry or armor types: leave the lawn mower running next to your hole 24 hours a day. When you get an opportunity to sleep in your house, put lube oil in your humidifier and set it on high.
44. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
45. Set up a port-a-potty in the corner of your yard. Once a week, have the service truck back into your yard and pump it out. Make sure the wind carries the smell into your neighbor’s house. Ignore his complaints.
46. Every other month pull every single possession you own out of your house and line everything up on your lawn from smallest to largest, front to back. Count everything and write it down to file with your insurance company. Give your wife the list to throw away.
47. Lock wire the lug nuts on your car.
48. Buy a trash can, but don’t use it. Store the garbage in your hole.
49. Get up every night around midnight and stroll around your yard to “check the perimeter.”
50. Run the garden hose to your hole and turn it on. Set your alarm clock to go off at random during the night. Jump up and get dressed as fast as you can. Run out into the backyard and get in your hole.
51. Once a month, take apart every major appliance in your home and put them back together again.
52. Build a scale model of your yard. Make your children draw sketches of it including little arrows indicating what they are going to do when they go out to play. Post these sketches on a bulletin board for reference.
53. Remove the insulation and widen the frames of your front and back doors so that no matter how tight you shut the door, the weather will still get inside.
54. Every so often, throw the cat in front of your hole and shout “Enemy in the wire! Fire Claymores!” Then run into the house cut off the circuit breaker. Yell at the wife and kids for violating security and not maintaining good noise and light discipline.
55. Put on the headphones from your stereo set, but don’t plug them in. Hang a paper cup around your neck with string. Go sit in your car. Say to no one in particular “Lost-One, this is Lost-Three, are you lost too, over?” Sit there for three or four hours with the engine running. Say again to no one in particular “Negative contact, Lost-Three out.” Roll up your headphones and paper cup and place them in a box.
56. Cook a gourmet meal then eat it in the middle of a McDonald’s play place.
57. Receive 500 gallons of purified water. Only eat snow.
58. Find out your house was built on an erosion point. Burn your house down. Build new one 3 feet away.
59. Buy 10 pairs of sunglasses for your neighbors to steal.
60. When you catch above mentioned neighbors, only blame the neighbors that just moved in.
61. Dig a new hole in your front yard for a bathroom next to your original hole. Only piss in Powerade bottles.
62. When above-mentioned hole is washed away, dig a new bathroom hole 6 inches from your fresh water supply.
63. Every 2 or 3 days take your closest not-so-close friends camping across the street.
64. Shower semi-annually.
65. Have your parents take away your allowance on weekends that were a part of your vacation.
It’s time to get out your stars and stripes – it’s Flag Day! June 14, 1777, is the date that Congress officially chose the design for our flag, and Americans have been pledging their allegiance to it ever since. While you’ll only get the day off work if you live in Pennsylvania, the state where the flag originated, the holiday’s history and meaning are important to know. Whether you’re reading this on Flag Day or any other day, these facts are fun enough to learn all year long.
1. Betsy Ross may not be the flag’s real designer
Betsy Ross is often cited as the designer of the first American Flag, but we have little evidence to support that claim. Her grandson presented statements by his own family in 1870, but beyond that, there’s no proof. Some historians want to transfer the credit to Francis Hopkinson, who was named as the flag’s designer in journals from the Continental Congress.
2. The celebration of the flag was invented by a teacher
In 1885, a 19-year-old teacher named Bernard J. CiGrand asked his class to write an essay on the symbolism of our flag. He spent the following half-century trying to make Flag Day a national holiday.
3. There have been 27 official versions of the American flag
On the American flag, the stripes represent the 13 original colonies, while the stars represent each state. Since there weren’t always 50 states, there weren’t always 50 stars. Each flag was similar, but with a different number of stars. If you visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you can see the remnants of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired the national anthem.
4. The colors of the flag have important meanings
Red, white and blue were chosen to represent, respectively, valor, liberty and purity. The colors also have specific names; “Old Glory Blue,” “Old Glory Red”, and white. Just plain white.
5. The current version of the flag was designed by a student
In 1949, 17-year-old Robert G. Heft created an updated flag for a class project, and the poor kid only got a B-. Luckily, that didn’t dissuade him. He submitted his idea to President Eisenhower when Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood. Our of over 1500 submissions, his design was chosen.
6. The flag has rules of its own. Lots of them.
According to the U.S. Flag Code:
– The flag shouldn’t be flown in bad weather. – It should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. – No other flags should be placed above it. – When flags from two or more nations are flown, they should rest on separate poles at the same height. They should also be about the same size. – It must be flown at every school and during all school days. – If flown at night, the flag should be illuminated. – Flags can be burned if they become damaged and can no longer be flown. – And many more.
7. You can’t sign your name on it
Despite what flag-signing politicians would have you believe, The Flag Code strictly prohibits adding any markings or drawings to the flag.
8. … or put it on a t-shirt
Every 4th of July, half the country is decked out in stars and stripes. As it turns out, we’re not really supposed to do that. The Flag Code actually specifies that the Stars and Stripes should never be used on clothing, bedding, or decorations. Considering how much Americans love our flag merch, that’s one rule we’ll probably keep breaking for a long, long time.
9. Flying a flag upside down isn’t necessarily disrespectful
At least not in the way you’re thinking of. An upside-down flag isn’t usually a signal of protest, rather, it’s a signal of distress. On your next cruise, if you see someone frantically waving an upside-down flag on a nearby island, he’s probably not a rebel. He’s stranded.
10. Burning a flag isn’t technically illegal
Historically, unlike flying a flag upside down, burning the flag WAS done as an act of protest. The Flag Protection Act of 1968 made this illegal, but the act was revoked 20 years later. The Supreme Court ruled that the government couldn’t limit citizens’ First Amendment rights, making it legal to do whatever you want to a flag with no legal consequences.
11. Indestructible flags exist
Historically, enemies of the United States have burned or defaced our flag to make a statement. (That’s why messing with the flag is a really, really bad idea, even if it’s not illegal!) To protect defaced flags from being used as a propaganda tool by enemies, a Green Beret veteran has designed an all but indestructible flag. Made out of kevlar and Nomex, the new materials ensure the flag can’t be burned or torn while still allowing it to fly naturally. Here’s how to order your Firebrand Flag today.
12. Using the American flag in burial ceremonies isn’t just for veterans
While draping the flag over the coffins of government officials and veterans is common practice, it’s not their exclusive right. Anyone can adopt this tradition if they like it!
13. Old Glory was the nickname of a specific American flag
We now refer to any ol’ flag as Old Glory, but that wasn’t always the case. It started with a sea captain named William Driver, who nicknamed the flag on his ship “Old Glory” when he saw it flying on his ship’s mast back in 1831. It was such a good nickname that it stuck for good.
14. After 9/11 we held our flag a little closer
National tragedies are known for bringing our country together. According to Karen Burke of Walmart’s Corporate Communications, their stores sold 115,000 flags on September 11, 2001, compared to only 6,400 flags in 2000. In the following year, they sold a whopping 7.8 million US flags- around triple the sales of the previous year.
15. There are 6 American flags on the moon
…but only 5 are standing. Over the course of many moon expeditions, six US flags have been planted. The wind generated by the landing and takeoff of a shuttle, however, dislodged the original flag placed there by Neil Armstrong during the first-ever moon landing.
16. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ directors respected the flag.
During the opening sequence of the first season of the show, the American flag is filmed at half-staff. This was done to honor President Kennedy, who was assassinated the day the pilot episode was filmed.
The Breadwinner, a new, critically acclaimed animation film that depicts the heroic struggles of a young Afghan girl under hard-line Taliban rule, is a testament to the desire for storytelling “when our world tips upside-down,” says its award-winning Irish filmmaker.
Adapted from Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s bestselling children’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of 11-year-old Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy to support her family after her father is wrongfully imprisoned.
Undaunted by oppression and the horrors of war around her, the heroine embarks on a quest to free her father. To console her younger siblings and find refuge from her struggles, Parvana invents a fable about a courageous boy who stands up to the so-called Elephant King.
“As the film is set around 2001, all of the characters in this film are a product of decades of war, each character deals with their challenges in different ways,” director Nora Twomey, whose other credits include the Academy Award-nominated The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea, tells RFE/RL. “The film explores the idea of transformation, how small actions, or words, have the potential to become a catalyst for change.”
During its brutal rule of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the fundamentalist Taliban banned women and girls from attending school, working outside the home, or even venturing outdoors unless accompanied by a male relative.
The Breadwinner has earned plaudits and been well received by audiences around the world since its November release, and has been nominated for the Best Motion Picture, Animated, at the Golden Globes.
Oscar-winning actor-director Angelina Jolie is an executive producer.
Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland when Northern Ireland was engulfed in war and sectarianism, Twomey says she feels an affinity for Afghans who have endured nearly four decades of almost uninterrupted bloodshed.
“As an Irish woman, having grown up as Northern Ireland experienced conflict and reconciliation, I have some small understanding of a few of the issues facing Afghan people,” she says.
“Afghans, much like the Irish, are a nation of storytellers,” she adds. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The Irish experienced occupation, famine, and war yet the storyteller was a welcome visitor to any house they came to. When our world tips upside-down, we all look to stories to try to make sense of what is going on inside of us.”
Twomey says her film is not just an appeal for women’s rights or a critique of misogyny in Afghanistan.
“By telling a story like this through animation, there is the potential to create empathy,” says Twomey, “whether that be empathy between the genders or between different parts of the world.”
Twomey has said she hopes the film will prompt discussions about the West’s involvement in wars in the Muslim world and evoke compassion for immigrants and refugees amid growing anti-Islam and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States.
Twomey and her Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon studios gained international fame with The Secret Of Kells, which she co-directed.
The Breadwinner marks her solo directing debut with a feature-length film.
“I believe animation can allow an audience to identify more closely with a character,” she says. “If you express a character with a few drawn lines, that character could be you or me. The more detail you add, the more ‘other’ it becomes. There is a language created between the characters, their environment, reality, and the animator which says something new.”
The Breadwinner might have raised some red flags for international audiences increasingly aware of cultural appropriation. It is set in Afghanistan but made mostly by Westerners and based largely on the accounts of Ellis, the book’s activist author, who interviewed Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the 1990s.
But Twomey, who has not visited Afghanistan, says that at every stage Afghans were involved in crafting the sensibility of the film. She says it is based on the interviews conducted by Ellis for her novel and the testimonies of Afghan members of her cast.
“We found moments that ring true, like the dread of a knock at the door, the smell of fresh bread, [or] the VHS tapes strung up on electricity poles as a warning against media of any kind,” Twomey says. “These moments in the film come from Afghan memory, and it seems fitting that these moments are translated through the hands of artists and animators to reflect back these words in an empathetic way.”
The Breadwinner is not the first film to delve into the issue of bacha posh — literally “dressed like a boy” in Dari, the form of Persian spoken in Afghanistan. The device of a girl dressing as a boy was central to the award-winning film Osama (2003), directed by Siddiq Barmak; the Disney animated film Mulan (1998); and even Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
“Parvana and Osama are very different characters, who undergo different journeys, with different relationships,” says Twomey.” With The Breadwinner, I wanted to make a film that was accessible to young adults and also one that leaves our audience with hope. Hope in the form of Parvana herself.”