Standing up for our soldiers and veterans – in particular, by ending the wasteful Afghanistan war and caring for our Middle East war vets - has always been a top priority of our campaign. For more than decade, our Senate has needlessly put our troops in harm's way without making us safer. Here are Senate candidate Levitt's answers to the April 4th questionnaire from the Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento County, printed here with permission.
Q: What is the most important issue affecting veterans you seek to represent and what will you accomplish for veterans during your tenure?
A: This answer is summed up in four of the points detailed below:
- leave Afghanistan in 2013, without leaving troops behind
- proper health care and suicide prevention
- the apology most veterans deserve
- enable veterans' families to live in vacant and stolen bank-owned homes
Before continuing the questionnaire below the fold, let's lay out that last proposal - which at first glance might seem radical or expensive. It's not - in fact, it can be achieved without cost to taxpayers, and may be the most cost effective and honorable way for big banks to protect the value of their real estate investments during the current housing crisis, with its glut of millions of foreclosed homes.
Ordinarily a foreclosed home's value is immediately slashed, often by half, the moment it becomes vacant. When this happens with more than one home, a neighborhood is blighted - neighboring homes slashed in value, theft of copper piping and other vandalism. The bank no longer receives mortgage premiums or a penny of revenue from it. It's bad for the banks that own the homes, bad for their stockholders, and terrible for the pension funds that bought their fraudulently "AAA-rated" securities with a promise of a 30 year revenue stream. But banks' long standing culture of greed and short-term thinking keeps foreclosure agents in charge, and prevents them from seeing smarter ways to protect their investment.
What if a deserving family was living there instead? A family that had already sacrificed beyond the call of duty for its country? A smarter bank - or a patriotic U.S. bank - would jump at the chance to keep the home they own properly inhabited, its neighborhood healthy, and the value of other homes it owns from falling further. The bank could charge an employed veteran's family an affordable rent and come out way ahead. It could pay an unemployed veteran's family to maintain the home and still come out ahead when the home's and neighborhood's value are factored in.
These are the same banks that we learned last fall secretly received $7 trillion dollars in "loans" at near-0% interest, with no strings attached, from our Federal Reserve. They can afford to spend some of it helping our veterans protect the bank's own real estate investments.
So this proposal won't even cost taxpayers. It's not even clear new legislation is required. It just requires leadership, imagination, and a sincere commitment to challenge banks and speak out for veterans. Amid millions of empty, foreclosed homes and millions of veterans - often un- and under-employed, some even victims of fraudulent foreclosure themselves - this approach to homes for veterans makes logical and moral sense.
Why haven't we heard such solutions? They elude politicians who routinely consider a bank that has stolen a home (as through robo-signing, a fraud on the court) to be above the law, so it is never convicted and keeps the property - while routinely treating veterans as third class citizens before, during and after combat.
Below: California Dem Vets questionnaire and answers:
Q: If you have served in the armed forces, why did you serve? If you have not served in the armed forces, why not?
A: Throughout my life, beginning with Vietnam, I have seen and known soldiers coerced to volunteer, fight, kill, and risk injury and death in distant nations that never threatened or attacked us. My many veteran friends feel they were abused by this corrupt process, where a Congress and White House that should have been looking out for them, instead recklessly sent them overseas. I was lucky that wise adults around me, from my parents to Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke out and convinced me that unlike say WWII, it would be wrong to volunteer in those wars. I resolved to help veterans instead.
Q: What is your position on the United States’ continued presence in Afghanistan? Do you agree with the President’s current schedule to withdraw troops?
A: The President’s timetable is far too slow and too open-ended. I will fight in the US Senate to get all our troops out of Afghanistan in 2013 as my top priority. The mission in Afghanistan is over and the government we support there is far more corrupt than the Taliban – by the account of our troops and their commanders! Every drone attack and night raid makes it worse, with our troops (and the Afghanis) suffering the consequences. Someone in the U.S. Senate has to finally start standing up for our soldiers. I consider it a moral obligation that not one more day or life should be spent with our troops rescuing one another from the deadly mistakes of Congress and the White House.
Q: Do you believe that defense spending should be increased, reduced, or kept at current levels?
A: Vastly reduced. We are spending trillions on foreign wars that make us less safe and even fuel terrorists in the US.
Q: Do you support the policy of allowing gay and lesbian individuals to serve openly in the armed forces?
A: Yes, and I am a lifelong champion of equal rights.
Q: What is your view on the prohibition against women serving in front‐line combat positions? Does current policy provide equality between men and women in military?
A: Women should be treated equally. However current practice, which has even resulted in a startlingly high rate of rape of women and sometimes-fatal bullying of men, must urgently be modified. I would like to work with veterans and commanders on policies to help solve these serious problems. Women must be better protected and whistleblowers of any gender must be rewarded, not punished. That’s how to respect and stand up for all our troops.
Q: Do you feel that current educational benefits for military veterans is adequate? What is your view on the transferability of education credits for veterans seeking higher education?
A: It’s not enough. Given their sacrifice, veterans should be entitled to full financial support and credits for any education they wish to pursue.
Q: Do you feel that current health care benefits for military veterans is adequate?
A: Absolutely not! The status quo amounts to abuse. Veterans' groups like March Forward document the unforgivable efforts to downgrade and rediagnose troops already known to have PTSD, or to claim they suffered a pre-existing condition, using tests that show no such thing. There must be a policy change, and I’ll argue for that in the U.S. Senate.
Q: Suicide rates have gone up for service members returning home, what can be done to stop this, and what role will you play in that?
A: The record high suicide rate - 18 per day - results from further outrageous abuse of soldiers and veterans. The scars of war are bad enough. These wars weren’t the soldiers’ fault. Their trauma was engineered by policy decisions that make it almost impossible to feel good about the friends they’ve lost and the things they’ve done. And the abuse of health care benefits and diagnosis cited above makes it far worse, practically guaranteeing veterans will be untreated, depressed and worse. To start, most of today’s veterans actually deserve an apology from their government which confusingly, cynically sent them to nations that never attacked or threatened the U.S. nor participated in 9-11. This may not immediately effect the suicide rate. Still, much of the healing won’t begin until our soldiers get the recognition and the apology they deserve.
[This interview with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan reveals just a few of the shocking statistics for homelessness and suicide among our veterans. 1 in 6 homeless are veterans. And so on.]
Q: What is your view on the use of water‐boarding and other so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” by military personnel to obtain information?
A: This is yet another way civilian politicians abuse the trust of soldiers and veterans, and make them complicit in crimes directed by civilians and the White House, who are never held accountable. International law requires that every soldier be instructed in the Nuremberg rules that require each soldier to refuse orders he considers illegal or immoral. Since 1945 we’ve known we’re better than the Germans were – that “I was just following orders” is not a proper answer when a crime is committed. Our civilian commanders have completely corrupted that process. A soldier who is being coerced to torture, waterboard or commit other war crimes must refuse and if possible, report the illegal order up the chain of command and receive whistleblower protection. That’s one of many requests the veterans groups are rightly making.
Q: What is your view on military recruiters recruiting on public school campuses?
We only appear to need military recruiters because of the many reckless, unjust, unpopular wars our civilian leaders have unwisely launched and funded, expecting young people and soldiers to pick up the slack. When 69% of Americans want our troops out of Afghanistan now, we don’t need recruiters – we need to reset our policies.
A: What will you do to help homeless veterans and unemployed veterans?
Along with ending the Afghanistan war and taking out our troops without any more needless injury or death, fair housing for veterans is my most passionate issue. Particularly today – when banks own empty homes that lose value and destroyneighborhoods, someone should be paid to water and mow the lawn, make sure no one is stealing the copper piping, arrange maintenance – living there and making sure it is a real home.
Often the foreclosure itself was fraudulent or illegally “robosigned” by a bank. Those banks should foot the entire bill and, arguably, transfer ownership. Moreover, the owner – the bank – would enjoy much of the benefit as the home and the neighborhood keep and increase their value.
The banks could be paying veterans and their families to live in those homes. In the current home market, blighted with millions of foreclosures, there should not be a single homeless veteran. Shame on Congress and the Banks if they’d keep even one home vacant rather than help, and be helped by, a U.S. veteran. The government that the banks have been relying on for bailouts and support should make sure every veteran’s family has their own home.
GENERAL CANDIDATE QUESTIONS
Briefly describe why you are running for this office.
In so many issues in the US today, there is bipartisan agreement among Democratic and Republican politicians – except they have things exactly backwards when compared to what the people want. This includes ignoring the peoples’ desire to get our troops out of Afghanistan (69%), receive not-for-profit health care like other civilized nations (59%) and end the unpopular war on marijuana that fills California’s prisons beyond capacity. Neither a Republican nor Senator Feinstein will change direction – but now there’s a unique new opportunity in 2012 to change that: another Democrat can actually run alongside Senator Feinstein in November. That’s why I’m running.
GENERAL ISSUE QUESTIONS
Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ only
- Do you support same-sex marriage and LGBT rights generally? Yes!
- Do you support a woman’s right to comprehensive healthcare, including the right to choose and access contraception, and have a medically safe and legal abortion? Yes!
- Are you supportive of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S., including the DREAM Act? Yes!
- Do you support the right of workers to unionize by card check? Yes!