Today Crimea, Tomorrow…

While I do not profess to be a historian, there is a history running through the current drama on the Crimean peninsula. Just this morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s move to annex Crimea, saying that the rights of ethnic Russians have been abused by the Ukrainian government. Crimea and Sevastopol are now part of the Russian Federation, according to a statement issued by the Kremlin.

Putin has essentially told the world, “get used to it. Crimea has always been a part of Russia and we are making it a reality.” Putin strongly censured the West, whose actions are “absolutely in favor of their own interests—black today, white tomorrow.”

Putin compared recent events in Crimea to Kosovo’s independence bid from Serbia, which the West supported. He claimed that the entire operation was legal and democratic, even saying that the Russian troops in Crimea were not there illegally, because of a treaty Russia has with the Ukraine that allows up to 25,000 Russian troops at its Black Sea base in Crimea.

Crimea, and Then What?

Crimea has been torn between East and West since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and this is reflected in a cultural and linguistic divide. Russian is widely spoken in parts of the east and south. In some areas, including the Crimean peninsula, it is the main language. In western regions – closer to Europe – Ukrainian is the main language and many of the people identify with Central Europe.

In a televised address to a Russian audience, Putin said that the weekend referendum in Crimea, a public vote where 97% voted to join Russia, “was an extremely convincing figure.”  The U.S. and Europe continue to maintain that the election was illegal and have refused to recognize it.

The United States and the European Union have so far announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the crisis in Crimea, which was part of Russia from the 18th century until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.

Putin also lamented the break-up of the USSR, claiming that events happened so quickly that people did not have time to really process what was going on. Some experts have speculated that Putin’s ultimate ambition is to protect ethnic Russians across the former Soviet empire.

“Putin is prepared to keep on pushing,” Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, recently told the Associated Press. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he moves into other points into eastern Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian government and many Western powers agree with Hill, convinced that this is just the first step in what will amount to Russia attempting a military takeover of additional territories.

Still stinging from the presence of Russian troops in his country, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk said, “I still believe that there is only one solution of this crisis, a peaceful one. But we offer peace, and Russia offers war.”

Putin will not find it easy to take over Crimea. Crimea is entirely integrated into Ukraine’s mainland economy and infrastructure (90% of its water, 80% of its electricity, and about 65% of its oil and gas. About 70% of Crimea’s budget comes directly from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Today’s events make it clear that Russia moves as it wants, with very little regard for the pressure the U.S. and the European union are trying to exert.

 

 

The War on Terror

Judging from the polls, a weary, inward-looking American public has long stopped caring much about what used to be called the “war on terror.  What began as one horrific attack resulted in a simple, 60-word Authorization for the Use of Military Force three days later.

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United Stated by such nations, organizations, or persons.”

We Have Forgotten Much

I well remember the sentiment that cascaded across this country, width, and breadth, 13 years ago. It was long ago. It was yesterday; we’ve forgotten much.

We now wonder how to end a war with an enemy that is fanatically determined to attack all things Western, in any country, at any time, and without regard to the victims of its attacks. In fact, they think the more heinous the attack; the more horrible the act, the better purpose.

Consider the resources it takes to monitor communications channels, national borders, food and water supplies, those venues where large bodies of people assemble, air travel, and on and on. Our societies, our lives, are forever changed. We will not in the imaginable future experience the coming and going, the moving through the events of our lives, without facing these security issues, without submitting to a military search and scrutiny meant to assure us that there is not a mindless assassin in our midst.

What affiliation do we owe these people whose credo is to kill and terrorize wantonly and indiscriminately, the more shocking the better? How do we reason with this enemy? We don’t. How do we find and destroy this enemy? We cannot. We’re 13 years into this. But let’s not forget what has happened and let’s not flag in our resolve to resist this dogma of destruction.

The Medieval Mindset

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, once called those of this mindset “medieval,” and he was right. A modern society, build morals, rules, and laws, cannot ever be entirely secure when its enemy cares only to destroy.  Destruction is mindless, random, and can be spawned from any of a million different means. It wants regression into the abyss, into the blackness and sameness of One Thing and One Thing only.

Throughout violence-torn Middle Eastern, African, and Central Asian countries, al-Qaida operatives appear from the dust like warriors spawned by the mythical dragon’s teeth. Their volition is to destroy, that’s all. They are against growth, against progress, against industry, and against the human spirit. They want to return the world to the dark ages and enslavement.

How ironic that these terrorists in our world claim to have a law; they claim to have an objective; they are bent on pushing everyone in the world to kneel to that ideal. And they have no problem whatever with the indiscriminate murder of as many men, woman, and children as it takes until that idol is enthroned.

There is no freedom there, no liberty, no light. There is only the neutered obedience to the interpretation of their mutated law. There can be no deviation to the left or the right. Anything outside the line is caught and squashed like a bug, with no more thought. There is no respect for any other idea, no appreciation of any other institution, no room for any expression except the One. There is no sense of history, no regard for the truths that have kept and governed other nations for millennia.

How simple and how foolish to think that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations will cease and desist if we will pull away and ignore them. The fights worth being in life, whatever their bruises and bumps, are the ones worth being in. And this war on terror is one of them.

In our day, we watched for a moment what this ideology looks like when in power. We saw it in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. We saw in stark fireworks against a night sky how it acted and how it governed. We saw how it thought, how it moved, how it ruled.

Should al-Qaeda prevail anywhere, the establishment of radical Muslim law will be one thing. Then the policing of that law and the execution of its penalties for those caught acting contrary will be left to the twisted cruel hearts and minds of those whose only purpose has ever been destruction and whose only methods have ever been terror, repression, and fear.

It takes no imagination to see to the end of this road.

Bankruptcy and Your VA Loan Benefit

This article is meant to help those who have been through a bankruptcy and are looking to get their financial feet back under them and move forward in their life’s journey. No segment of the economy has been untouched by the real estate collapse. Veterans and their families need to know the future looks bright, no matter the past.

If real estate and financial markets are terrains and the last few years have been a journey through them, then (wow), we are emerging from some bad jungle! The unfortunate part of this is that you or someone close to you likely has been financially harmed by the difficulty of the way.

How does Bankruptcy Affect Your VA Loan?

How does bankruptcy affect your ability to obtain a VA home loan? For most prospective VA borrowers, it’s pretty much good news: Experiencing a bankruptcy doesn’t mean you’re automatically out of the running for another VA-backed mortgage down the road.

Bankruptcy filings in federal court dropped 12 percent in the fiscal year 2013. So, yes, there is a recovery there. Some military personnel and vets and their families continue to seek shelter using either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 protection. The good news is that a responsible homeowner who has used Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection can, without a doubt, get their overall fiscal health back on track.

Accept this dose of reality: a bankruptcy filing has negative consequences, which almost without fail includes a harpoon into your credit score. The road back goes a bit uphill and requires your hard work and dedication—pretty much what you would expect to get back on track after a derailment.

The hard work and dedication part are crucial because a new lender is going to want:

    • an explanation of your bankruptcy
    • evidence that you have re-established good credit
    • proof of job stability

It’s the Discharge Date!

Here’s key information: VA lenders typically won’t talk with you until you’re at least two years beyond the date of a bankruptcy discharge. Remember this detail. The clock starts ticking with the discharge, not with the initial bankruptcy filing.

It can be a different story for veterans who file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. If your bankruptcy was Chapter 13 you may be eligible for a VA loan just 12 months removed from your filing date. Satisfactory credit and no late payments during that time will be the critical factors, with a stable job situation. You will also need to obtain permission from the bankruptcy trustee to take on those new monthly payments.

Losing a Home to Bankruptcy or Foreclosure

Home ownership is a road that can have many forks when it comes to bankruptcy or foreclosure.  Some homeowners will essentially give back their home during the bankruptcy process. Others may lose theirs to foreclosure months or even years after the fact.

It’s common to have a short sale or foreclosure after a bankruptcy discharges. Mortgage lenders face the challenge of trying to determine the status of a mortgage and whether it was discharged in a bankruptcy. Policies can vary on this, so it’s important to check with a loan specialist.

As long as your mortgage debt is truly discharged with the bankruptcy, a foreclosure that follows in the wake wouldn’t “restart” your two-year waiting period. The good news here is there should be no double-whammy with a foreclosure that happens months or years down the road.

Boosting Your Credit

A hurdle to getting a VA loan after bankruptcy will be your credit score. This may be the most critical factor that you can directly address. Spending those two years after the discharge working on credit repair is critical, and making your payments on-time is not less important.

A bankruptcy is not the end of the world. The VA has a policy that is not overly harsh with the veteran who has had the misfortune of a bankruptcy. The VA mortgage loan benefit continues in force and in availability to the person who has a recovery plan and works that plan.

We’re lowvarates.com and we would be happy to answer your questions.

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US/Israeli Arrow 3 Anti-ballistic Missile Project

Unrest in the Middle East, and in particular concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, means Israel is accelerating development of its high-altitude Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system. The technology involved is quite remarkable.

Israeli Col. Aviram Hasson, who leads the Arrow 3 missile project, explained the accelerated development and testing of the missiles as related to the growing Iranian nuclear threat. “We want to reach a situation in which Israel has a ready defense for any threat, present or future,” he said.

US-Israel Joint Venture

Israel has been working with the United States for years to develop the Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense system. The joint venture program recently hit a bit of a snag when Israel expressed chagrin over the US disclosure of what it deemed classified information about the project. US military spokesmen are saying that the information disclosed is general information that has to be public anyway for the contractor bidding process.

The U.S has committed to build Israel a state-of-the-art facility to house the Arrow 3. As with all Defense Department projects, detailed specifications were made public so that contractors could bid on the $25 million project. The specifications included more than 1,000 pages of details on the facility, ranging from the heating and cooling systems to the thickness of the walls.

The apparent Israeli frustration over the US posting of sensitive military information seems to be over stated. At least it has been quelled. Israeli military officials are not new to the US procurement process, nor to contractor bidding procedures. The surprise seemed to be that a top-secret military project in Israel could have specific details published in the US on a government website meant for contractors interested in bidding for the work.

Lt. Col. Peleg Zeevi, the head of the bidding process at Israel’s Defense Ministry, publically recited Israel’s long history of relying on the United States to help build military installations. His conciliatory remarks seemed meant to calm the troubled waters. Col. Zeevi said that Israel needed US “knowledge, ability, and experience” in getting this key defensive system operational.

Arrow 3 Technologically Advanced

Israeli officials have said that the Arrow 3 project boosts the  missile’s range and operational altitude to knock out hostile ballistic missiles, whether carrying nuclear or conventional warheads, outside Earth’s atmosphere to minimize fallout. There are a host of other tactical, logistical, and operational improvements.

If you are new to the Arrow missiles, this latest version has a range of 1,500 miles—far greater than that of the Arrow 2 now in service. Once the Arrow 3 breaks free of the Earth’s atmosphere, the interceptor breaks away from the launch vehicle and carries out a series of maneuvers in space as it locks onto its target, then rams it in a head-on collision.

The Arrow 3 weighs less than half of what the Arrow 2 does and does not need to know the exact location of the target missile when it is launched, meaning it can adjust to the mission as the threat unfolds.

Just days ago Israel successfully launched an Arrow 3 missiles, which intercepted missiles similar to Iran’s Shihab-3 in a variety of test conditions. It was a rousing success for the much-touted project. It gives Israel, which has so little margin for reaction to a threat, a powerful solution to surprise missile attacks.

Israel’s wider missile defense system is known as “David’s Sling,” a Biblical reference to the shepherd boy, David, who killed the warrior giant Goliath with his shepherd’s sling.

The recent Arrow 3 testing was part of the larger David’s Sling program and the first time the entire system was tasked with identifying the target missile, launching the Arrow 3 missile in response, and successfully shooting the enemy missile down.

Major Roi Pladshaw, Head of the “Arrow” Division of the “Armor” Administration which is responsible for the development of weapons in Israel’s Aerial Defense Formation, remarked “We’re talking about an incredibly advanced missile-defense radar. Its detection capabilities are twice as exact as the ones of the current radar, “Green Pine.”

The advanced Arrow 3 missiles are yet another example of US/Israeli ingenuity in defending the Zionist state.

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Resolutions for Home Ownership 2014

Veteran, a new year is upon us. Think back on where you have been. Think now on what you have learned and how you have changed. What do the years ahead hold for you?

We all know about New Year’s resolutions. We know that the mark of a new year is the symbolic chance to improve, to change. If you are a veteran or active service member homeowner, that home might be just the vehicle you need to push your life into a state of added happiness. If you are not yet a homeowner, see how you can adapt these resolutions to your circumstances: you just might find the means to get into that new home.

6 Resolutions for 2014

What follows are some suggested resolutions for 2014. These resolutions will help you use your home as a vehicle to greater financial security.

  1. Pay extra on your home. The monthly principal and interest on a $150,000 mortgage with a 30-year term and an interest rate of 5.5 percent totals $852. Paying an extra one-twelfth of that amount, or $71, each month would increase the payment to $923, but also shorten the term by five years and one month and cut the interest expense by $30,789.
  2. Pay off credit card debt or a second mortgage.The freedom from that additional debt and interest expense can be well worth the effort. Make a few sacrifices. Learn to save. Putting something away each month can add to a strong credit rating and always gives you options in an uncertain financial world.
  3. Get a VA mortgage loan refinance to decrease your payment or lock in a low fixed rate. A surprising number of Americans continue to carry VA loan interest rates that are a full point or more higher than what they could currently get in a low-interest refinance. If you are a qualified veteran or active service member and you haven’t seriously looking into the Veterans home loan market, you owe it to yourself to investigate a VA home loan or VA refinance with an industry leader.
  4. Challenge your property tax assessment. If your house has declined in value in recent years, save money by contesting your property tax assessment. This is not a strategy for everyone, but many areas of the country continue to labor under suppressed home values. For example, if your home’s property value is 40% lower than it once was, your taxes should technically be 40 percent lower than they once were. Look into your property tax assessor’s website for information regarding assessment dates and appeals.
  5. Reduce Homeowner’s Insurance. Looking back can be forward-thinking for 2014, at least when it comes to your homeowners insurance.  Here’s why. Major repairs or improvements that you made to your home last year can get you a discount or a lower quote on this year’s coverage. Call your agent or carrier and make sure your file is current with the latest information about your home. It never hurts to make that call.
  6. Pay your bills on time.  Regular and consistent bill paying is an excellent way to strengthen your credit score. A high score can let you borrow money at a lower interest rate and on more attractive terms. If you’ve already missed a few mortgage payments, make a resolution to get and stay current as soon as you can. Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won’t haunt you forever.”

The truly great thing about making real New Year’s resolutions is it breathes new life into the stale or ordinary. We all get into a rut sometimes. Challenge yourself here. Setting and keeping meaningful resolutions for 2014 can move you financially forward.

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Defense Cuts Alarm Education and Aerospace Leaders

I have good news to report.

Congress worked together to agree on  a two-year budget deal. There are people on both sides of the matter grousing a little about it. But most people see it a welcome relief to the nonsense of the last few years. It was a cooperative effort between Democrats and Republicans and goes to the Senate next for approval. I have been wondering if we would ever be able to report on such an event again—of real bipartisan effort—given the in-fighting of the past several years that only seems to worsen.

But here we are, middle of December, with members of Congress saying that they owe it to the military to give them a budget before the end of the year. This sentiment comes as sequestration looms and the cuts ax is prepared to drop where it may and slice of whatever it will.

Part of the real problem with sequestration—at least for the round already completed and the 2014 round about to happen—is that its cuts are indiscriminate. The mandated reductions in defense spending are simply leveled, without any process that attempts to prioritize or scrutinize such cuts and their long-term effect.

The Budget Control Act (the law that created the sequester) doesn’t require that future years have the same automatic cuts, provided DoD and Congress generate budgets below certain caps. If congress can cooperate, they could shift budget dollars toward R&D.  The media in Washington report that is just what the bill Congress passed does.

Educators and Industry Leaders Sound Off

Most of the concern about the consequences of the sequester have been from within the military community. Recently, highly placed officials in Education and the Aerospace community banded together to beat that drum with a new level of urgency.

Representatives from the Association of American Universities (AAU), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Manufacturers joined others in a recent Washington press conference to warn that the first round of sequester cuts has already harmed US R&D. The pending second round of the automatic cuts that are part of the 2014 budget cycle could be even worse, they say.

Here’s how Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman and chairman of AIA’s board put it:  “Many assume that America’s lead in technology and therefore our technological superiority in national security is somehow guaranteed. It is not…The pace of technology advancement around the world is accelerating and it’s accelerating at a time when we’re reducing investment.”

The panel focused on the impact the sequester is having on R&D spending and by extension, talent development and retention. Reducing R&D creates what Bush called a new “talent risk” as capable potential workers avoid career fields in favor of more innovative areas.

DoD spending cuts have made their way down to universities, where 2012 marked the first time that R&D spending had declined since 1974, according to a recent National Science Foundation report, according to Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU.

“We are facing an innovation deficit as research and higher education investment declines while those of our foreign competitors dramatically increase,” he said. “This research carried out in our nation’s universities is the lifeblood of innovation, and innovation is the lifeblood of our economy.”

To illustrate his point, Rawlings pulled his Apple iPhone. “This is a great Apple product, a great product,” he said. “But none of the technological inventions that made this product possible were created by Apple. All of them came out of government-sponsored research and development.

AIA sent copies of a letter to congressional leaders and the president outlining their concerns. The letter was signed by over 100 of AIA’s member companies. Among other things it warned:

“Investment in the defense industrial base is not a spigot that can be turned on and off without consequence,” it said. “Research can take years to yield results and key skills can take a lifetime to develop. While facilities and equipment can be built and replaced relatively quickly, people and their skills cannot.”

One can only hope the congressional fiasco of late has helped Congress understand it cannot hijack the entire country for its partisan squabbles. Neither side will get all it wants. But, working together, Congress has a duty to put in place a reasonable budget and move forward, particularly in this crucial area of domestic defense.

Now, if only the US Senate will step up and pass the bill.

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VA Home Loans: Common Questions and Answers

Buying a Home is a big deal, one of most important events and decisions in a person’s financial life. There are probably a hundred questions to be answered about securing a loan for that new home. For military veterans and current service members wanting to exercise their VA home loan entitlement, several questions come to the front as they ramp up for this big event.

You might be surprised at how easy it can be to get your veterans mortgage financing. VA mortgage interest rates are still at historic lows.

Q. What can I use the VA-guaranteed loan for?
A. To buy a home, either existing or pre-construction, as a primary residence, or to refinance an existing loan.

Q. What are the benefits of a VA-guaranteed loan?
A. This is going to require a list!

  • No down payment (unless required by the lender or the purchase price is more than the reasonable value of the property)
  • No mortgage insurance
  • Equal opportunity for all qualified Veterans to obtain a VA loan
  • Reusable
  • One time VA funding fee that can be included in the loan
  • Veterans receiving VA disability compensation are exempt from the VA funding fee
  • VA limits certain closing costs a veteran can pay
  • Can be assumed by qualified persons
  • Minimum property requirements to ensure the property is safe, sanitary, and sound
  • VA staff dedicated to assisting veterans who become delinquent on their loan

Q. Who is eligible for a VA home loan?
A. Generally, the following people are eligible:

  • Veterans who meet length of service requirements
  • Service members on active duty who have served a minimum period
  • Certain Reservists and National Guard members
  • Certain surviving spouses of deceased veterans

Other people are also eligible. Check eBenefits  or contact the VA Eligibility Center at 1-888-768-2132.

Q. What are the underwriting requirements?
A. Here are some of the principal requirements:

  • No maximum debt ratio; lender must provide compensating factors if debt ratio is over 41%.
  • No maximum loan amount; however, VA limits its guaranty to $417,000 without a down payment in most of the country.
  • Published residual income guidelines to ensure Veterans have the capacity to repay their obligations while accounting for all living expenses.
  • No minimum credit score requirement; instead VA requires a lender to review the entire loan profile to make a lending decision.
  • Complete VA credit guidelines are published at www.benefits.va.gov/warms/pam26_7.asp .

Q. How do I get the process started?
A. Start by downloading the required forms.

VA provides policy, guidelines and oversight of the program. Lenders provide financing for eligible Veterans. The guaranty allows Veterans to obtain a competitive loan without a downpayment. Lenders need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to prove your entitlement. Most Veterans can obtain the COE online through eBenefits (www.ebenefits.va.gov). Lenders also have the ability to request the COE on your behalf.
The VA appraisal is not intended to be an “inspection” of the property. Get expert advice from a qualified residential inspection service before legally committing to a purchase agreement. Veterans are also encouraged to have radon testing performed.

Q. Is there any possibility of getting a VA loan if I’m having trouble on my current mortgage?
A. VA loan technicians are trained to help Veteran borrowers retain their homes and avoid foreclosure. You can call toll-free 1-877-827-3702 to speak to a VA loan technician.

If you have questions concerning your military qualifications for a VA mortgage loan, you can contact the VA directly. For those living in the Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest, the VA Regional Loan Center is in Denver. Here’s how to contact them:

Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
155 Van Gordon Street
Lakewood, CO 80228
(Mail: Box 25126, Denver, CO 80225)
1-888-349-7541

 

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Syrian Chemical Weapon Disposal

A few months ago it seemed inevitable that Syria would be subjected to some sort of international military attack, given the world’s outrage at the Assad regime using chemical weapons against its own people. After tense negotiations and irrefutable evidence, Assad’s Syrian regime relented and agreed to let the UN come into its war-ravaged country to remove the stockpile of chemical weapons.

Against all logic, the international community getting its hands on the chemical weapons has proven to be the easy part of the equation. What remains mostly unknown and unresolved is how will the weapons be gathered, how can they be safely transported, where will they be destroyed, and by whom.

Terror Around Every Corner

The head of the mission to destroy the weapons recently announced that the United Nations are awaiting approval from an unnamed country to use its port to load the stockpiles of Syria’s most deadly chemicals onto a U.S. ship for offshore destruction.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, has been given the task of overseeing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks under an agreement that saved Syria from U.S. long-distance missile strikes.

The OPCW recently announced that the United States has started modifying a U.S. naval vessel to equip it to destroy Syria’s 500 tons of chemicals, including actual nerve agents—neutralizing them offshore with other chemicals in a process known as hydrolysis.

Italy, Norway, and Denmark are a few notable countries that have offered to transport Syria’s chemicals from the northern Syrian port of Latakia with military escorts. The chemicals would then be transferred to the U.S. ship at a still to be announced port.

Several European countries declined to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal on their own soil, at which point the OPCW announced the U.S. offered to break down the most lethal components in international waters. As currently painted, the plan is to see all the declared chemicals transferred to the coastline by the end of the year so they can be eliminated far away from the bloody fighting in Syria.

How Safe?

It makes you really wonder just how the transporters are going to get these chemical weapons from their present locations, across the debris fields of destruction, and to the port where they can be transported.

Here’s another thing. Syria is crawling with known terrorist groups and radical militants who would love nothing more than to get their hands on these chemical weapons. What would it mean for a convoy of chemical weapons to be captured by people who would relish the chance to use them in the most catastrophic circumstances possible?

We should all stop and think about that one. Obviously, security has to be of primary concern surrounding the gathering and transportation of these weapons.

The naval vessel the U.S. is modifying in Norfolk, VA is the MV Cape Ray, a 648-foot-long transport. The modification will include chemical-arms destruction gear for the workers tasked with the job. The field-deployable Hydrolysis System is approximately 400 feet by 700 feet and includes power generators, hazardous-waste storage, and a laboratory. The system, meant to ship in approximately 35 20-foot containers, needs only consumable materials such as water, reagents, and fuel to run.

The hydrolysis technology has been proven and used by the U.S. in destruction of its own stocks in the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and in Newport, Ind.  There has been no announcement as to whether military or civilian personnel will carry out the disposal operation. An OPCW official did say that private companies would likely be contracted to dispose of the waste after it has been neutralized.

Hydrolysis can neutralize five to 25 metric tons of chemical warfare agents a day, also creates liquid hazardous waste—roughly five to 14 times the quantity of the treated material.

Destroying the chemical materials, according to the Director-General of the OPCW, is expected to cost between $47- 61 million. The cost of destruction will actually be much higher when factoring in the price of the system, transporting the stockpiles, and disposing of the toxic waste afterward.

 

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VA Home Mortgage Program is for You!

It is a common human behavior to learn of a program or a potential benefit and to assume that the program or benefit is meant for others. The truth is, thousands of veterans and their families are eligible for low-interest veterans mortgage home loans and have yet to take advantage of the offer.

In 1944, the U.S. government created a military loan guaranty program to help returning service members purchase homes. Post WWII, it was not uncommon to see entire subdivisions rise up from the ground to be filled largely with veterans returning home from the war and starting on the next phase of life – a life that included a new home and a family.

Generally stated, a service member is eligible for a VA home loan if he or she meets any one of these requirements:

  • Served 181 days during peacetime (Active Duty)
  • Served 90 days during war time (Active Duty)
  • Served 6 years in the Reserves or National Guard
  • Is the spouse of a service member who died while in service or from a service-connected disability

Turn to the Professionals

The VA mortgage loan or VA Refinance Loan has always been facilitated and managed by professionals who know the program intimately and can advocate for the homeowner. These professionals, specialists like those at lowvarates.com, have a long and rich history of providing the highest level of assistance to veterans in the new home or refinance markets.

More than 20 million veterans and their families have taken advantage of their VA housing entitlement to get into an affordable home. You might be one of those who has yet to act. There is no time like the present!

Getting started at lowvarates.com is as simple as filling out our short and secure contact form. With your contact form completed, a VA Loan specialist will reach out to you to discuss your unique situation, your objectives and how we can help you prequalify for a home with lowvarates.com.

The Pre-approval

We can provide you with a pre-approval package of documents that contains everything you need to obtain a VA home loan. You will have to qualify for the loan and we know the process every step of the way. For your pre-approval  you will need documents like these:

  • Tax Returns and W2s
  • Employment History
  • Pay Stubs
  • Bank/Investment Statements

Don’t forget BAH! If you are a qualified active military member your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is a significant benefit.  Lenders can count your Basic Allowance for Housing as effective income, which means you can use BAH to pay some or all of your monthly mortgage costs.

Getting the Loan

When you have found the home you qualify for, your loan officer will use a copy of your DD-214 to obtain your VA Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE details a prospective borrower’s entitlement and ability to participate in the VA Loan program. We can help you get your COE, saving you time and keeping the process running smoothly.

The VA requires homes to be move-in ready and any problems with the property generally have to be corrected by the seller before a loan closes.

Once you’re under contract to purchase a home, your loan documentation will go to an experienced underwriter for review. The underwriter will verify financial information and other documents and request additional items as needed. It is the underwriter’s job to ensure that everything is accurate and meets VA guidelines. Once the loan is approved, a closing date will be scheduled. At closing, you’ll sign paperwork, finalize your VA Loan and take ownership of your new home.

No Pre-Payment Penalty

Here is a final point about getting that low-interest VA mortgage loan. The VA Loan allows borrowers to pay off their home loan at any point without having to worry about a pre-payment penalty. With the absence of a pre-payment penalty, you are free to consider future home purchases and refinancing options.

Hey, your wait for home ownership has been long enough. Don’t assume anything. Reach out now to the lowvarates.com team of veteran service professionals.

There is no time like the present!

 

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Christmas Tips and Resources for Vets

The Christmas season can be stressful as you try to do something special for your loved ones.  Trying to chisel out a few extra dollars on a military budget can be a challenge. I know of two rules that, if followed, will always improve your chances!

Rule 1: Practice Self Control.

Self control is a virtue. When you think of the marketing and advertising dollars spent to entice you to spend your money, it is little wonder that so many people overextend themselves in the Christmas season.

Part of practicing self control is having a plan and sticking to it. And the next rule offers a great strategy for executing your plan.

Rule 2: Take a year-round approach.

Start thinking about the holidays early and spread out your holiday spending throughout the entire year. Many seasonal items, such as traditional Christmas ornaments, trimmings like wrapping paper, bows and Christmas cards, can be purchased at 70-80% of original price in after-Christmas sales.

Some large department stores offer layaway around the holidays, some as early as September. Start your Christmas shopping early by putting items in layaway and paying a portion of the total every month until Christmas. Stores sometimes charge a small fee for using a layaway service. Also, even though you have a few months to pay off the items, you still need to set and stick to your holiday budget. The goal of layaway is to make paying for gifts less of a burden, not to give you more time to overspend.

Do your research and to find out which stores have the latest deals on the items on your list. What has become known as Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is not the only time to save. This year’s online holiday sales are expected to top $2B.  Retailers are discovering that they can offer deep discounts when the products are ordered online and come directly from the warehouse.

Another thing, don’t be afraid to ask for a military discount. Some stores put up signs advertising a military discount. But even if a sign is not posted, it never hurts to ask.

Help for Military Families in Need

Here are some programs and options available to military families in need. Maybe you know someone who could use a hand. Maybe you would like to lend a hand yourself.

    • Salvation Army is a good place to start. Dropping in a few coins or a loose dollar or two is a bigger deal than you might think. Imagine hundreds or even thousands of like-minded people doing the same. A little bit multiplied by a great number adds up to a lot. Salvation Army makes a difference and the money is used locally.
    • Full Circle Home gives deployed servicemen a chance to send a gift box to their wives back home. Gift boxes contain pampering items, such as lotions, bubble baths and spa socks. They also feature a handwritten note from the serviceman.
    • Heroes at Home is a Sears-sponsored program that allows military families to apply for a Sears gift card to use to help with holiday shopping. Registration for the gift cards opens at the end of August and closes once 20,000 applications have been received. A select amount of registrants will be chosen to receive the gift cards, which vary based on the amount of donations received.
    • Operation Holiday Joy  is a donation campaign where 100% of your donation goes to food and toys this holiday season. You can designate your donation to a specific program.
    • The Red Cross provides many military family services including but not limited to financial assistance and deployment services.
    • Soldiers’ Angels sponsors Operation Outreach Holiday Support. Enlisted families can sign up to receive a $50-$100 gift card to help pay for a holiday meal and gifts for children ages 15 and under. Families must sign up for the program by December 15 and are matched with donors from around the United States.
    • The U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year.  You can donate or request a toy. Toys for Tots distributes those Christmas toys to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.  The program is for all children, including military kids.
    • Thank Military Families sponsors an annual adopt-a-family program. Preference is given to families of deployed troops. Families are adopted by sponsors who send gifts or gift cards directly to them. Those who are not adopted may receive gift cards from the organization’s gift card donation program.
    • Tree for Troops, sponsored by the Christmas Spirit Foundation, offers free Christmas trees for military families. Trees are available at 62 bases throughout the United States.

Have a Merry Christmas! Wherever you live there are local or regional resources that will know of seasonal area programs that offer gifts, discounts, and meals for military families.

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Think You Can’t Qualify for a VA Loan? Think Again

It’s time to bust a few myths about qualifying for a VA loan. There are plenty of misconceptions about qualifying for a VA home mortgage loan, but we’ve included three of the most common reasons people think they won’t qualify for a VA loan—along with the reasons they may be wrong!

Myth 1: I can’t afford it.

Current VA interest rates are still among the lowest in half a century. In terms of value and affordability, these days are hard to beat! And VA mortgage loans are among the very best values in the home loan marketplace.

Next of all, a veterans mortgage loan does not require a down payment and, because the government guarantees the loan, you are not required to have home mortgage insurance either.  No insurance required and no down payment represent significant reductions to you as you factor in the amount of money you need to get into a home.

The last part of affordability is to plan. You won’t get far without a plan. You will find that setting up a strategy to pay off debt, and putting into motion another strategy to save a little bit of money each paycheck—no matter how modest—will pay huge dividends when it comes to improving your financial situation. Having a plan, and sticking to it, will give you the ability to make progress toward your goal of home ownership.

Myth 2: My FICO score isn’t high enough to qualify.

First of all, let’s get this right: the VA has NO min FICO score requirement, so don’t abandon hope if you have a low FICO score.  Each lender has their own overlays or underwriting restrictions that they place over the VA rules. One of the country’s most accomplished veterans mortgage loan companies works with  approved lenders that have NO minimum on VA streamlines and others  that go down to 580 score.

Here’s more good news. If you get a VA automated underwriting approval from FANNIE (DU or desktop underwriter) or FREDDIE (LP or loan prospector) some lenders will be OK regardless of your FICO since you have a guaranteeable loan.

If your FICO score is under 580, don’t despair.  Stay tuned because I’m about to show you some practical things you can do to improve that score immediately.

Myth 3: My financial past has doomed me.

Bad credit serves as a deterrent for lenders. That much is true. Whether it’s an old debt in collection or a bunch of maxed-out cards, mortgage brokers don’t look kindly on low FICO scores. After a rash of loose lending requirements, the mortgage lending industry now expects borrowers to show up with the best credit score possible.

With discipline, patience, and strategic fixes to your finances, most people can quickly bring their FICO score up to an acceptable level. Here’s how:

  1. Obtain your credit report and make corrections. If there are errors in dates, payment amounts or other information, file a dispute to correct the problem. Also make sure to dispute any old negative collections. Weston writes, “The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency won’t bother to verify it when the credit bureau investigates your dispute.”
  2. Pay off credit card debt. Banks like to see a borrower with no more than 30 percent of her possible credit in use. Any more than that takes a toll on the FICO score. Increase your payments and work to pay off each card. MSN Money says, “While most debt gurus recommend paying off the highest-rate card first, a better strategy here is to pay down the cards that are closest to their limits.”
  3. Resist consolidating debt onto a single card. It’s usually best to leave older accounts open and have several accounts rather than one larger one. Plus, applying for a clean card to make a balance transfer can ding your FICO score.
  4. Be very cautious of debt consolidation or debt-relief plans that offer a quick fix. Even though many of these businesses promise to remove bankruptcies, foreclosures and judgments, they often do little to earn the hefty up-front fee they charge.  A slow, sure, steady approach is the responsible way to repair past financial mistakes.
  5. Verify that any default judgments are appropriate and legal. If there’s a judgment from a case that you don’t remember, it’s possible that the summons was purposefully served to an old address to elicit a default judgment against you. Go to the presiding court and file a motion to vacate. This takes a small payment and may require a new court date, but it could potentially knock a credit score-killing judgment from your record.

Don’t allow the past to ruin the future. Take advantage of the present to improve your financial health and open the door to that new VA financed home.

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Your Resume: Leverage Your Military Experience

I have several very good friends that manage the Human Resources department in their respective companies. They agree that a well-tuned resume is vital for a prospective employee.  Your resume is the first impression you make on a manager and a strong determining factor in whether you receive an interview at all.

Virtually every single veteran will benefit by understanding how to translate military experience and skills into practical qualifications for civilian jobs. Knowing how to package and present yourself to others is a neglected art.

Call to mind what the US Armed Services invests in its members, teaching a wide range of skills and disciplines and spending a fortune on personnel development. I think it is easily demonstrated that anyone who has served in the military comes out with tangible skills and experience. These skills and experience, if favorably presented, can make an attractive case for employment in almost any circumstance.

I recently came across some really good advice when it comes to preparing a resume that will get you hired. The author is Giacomo Giammatteo and he absolutely nails the importance of a resume. More, he tells you exactly what to do and how to do it.  He has a downloadable Kindle version and a PDF version for a pretty reasonable price.

It Matters How You Communicate

Here’s a sampling of the advice Giammatteo offers:

You don’t say:

    • Increased sales. You don’t even say, increased sales by 20%, even though that’s better.
    • Significantly cut manufacturing costs and improved yields.
    • Number 1 sales rep in region.
    • Brought product in under budget and ahead of schedule.

It’s much better to list it like this:

    • Increased sales by 20%, from $12m to almost $15m in one year.
    • Cut manufacturing costs by 25%, producing a yearly savings of more than $3m, while increasing yields from 92% to 96%.
    • Number 1 sales rep in region (out of 19 reps).
    • Brought product in 10% under budget and 2 months ahead of schedule, saving company $240k.

Giammatteo advocates quantifying your accomplishments, putting things into a perspective that the gatekeeper to your new job finds relevant.  If two nearly equal resumes are on the table, the one that quantifies things (as shown above) is the one that holds the advantage over the other.

When it comes to resumes, remember that less is more. Use simple language, jargon-free, and remove all acronyms and other confusing terms.  Your resume is really translating what you are and what you do to the most simple version possible—understandable to anyone and everyone.

More to Remember

When you apply for that new civilian job, here is some more timely advice:

  • Assume that those you are talking to know nothing about the military. Describe your skills and experience in simple terms, demilitarize everything, and then practice describing your experience and skills in easy-to-understand language.
  • Emphasize your soft skills. Soft skills are the “people skills” that you have learned. These include leadership ability, work ethic, working well under pressure, adaptability, efficiency, self-directedness and a commitment to excellence. Every employer is looking for these skill sets in a potential hire, and nearly every veteran has them. .
  • Remember, after writing your resume, to have at least two people read it to help ensure everything is grammatically correct and the document is easily understood by civilians. There are many online resume builders that can help you. Go to a few different websites and see what is offered. With a little time invested, you will begin to see patterns and consistent messages that will help you hone your resume and refine your presentation.
  • If you earned extra stripes, awards and medals, then show them off. Prestigious awards and commendations are appreciated and respected. In some instances, the topics of your medals or awards may be private. A simple firm “with all respect, I’d prefer not to go into detail about that particular subject” will secure your privacy without harming your chances to get the job.  Listing your awards, from distinguished service to good conduct, can be a great addition to any resume.

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Tighten Your Budget Belts!

I have written before on what is projected to happen in the next decade or so, assuming the law we know as sequestration is left to stand as currently written. The net effect, if you can’t remember, is an estimated $1.2 trillion reduction in Department of Defense spending.

The United States is coming out of a period where DOD spending has been at an unprecedented high (in terms of total expenditures).  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been long and expensive. The war on terror—wherever that terror resides and whatever its plans and incursions—has its associated price tag.

The crazy thing about the war on terror is that we can’t say what will happen tomorrow. It is an expensive war by any terms. Today we seem to be in pretty good condition. A US drone strike recently killed a top member of the Taliban in Pakistan. Our intelligence on the terrorists has been good enough to keep them at bay. For now.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. That means the expenses of those wars will continue to rachet downward.  We can always hope for peace as we prepare to deal with our enemies who would love to hurt us as badly and frequently as possible.

Veterans and active duty personnel can expect to see Tricare cuts. They can also expect to pay a greater percentage of their healthcare costs. Here are some statistics to work over:

  • Overall funding for overseas contingency operations has declined by just over 50 percent since 2008 as the war in Iraq has wound down.
  • Funding for Iraq and Afghanistan was as high as $187 billion in fiscal year 2008, which represented 30 percent of SIPRI’s measure of U.S. military spending for that year.
  • Projected war funding for 2014 is projected to be $79 billion,  but is likely to decline thereafter with the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

A Defense spending statistic that has always drawn a lot of attention is U.S. national defense spending as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That figure has ranged from a high of 15 percent in 1952 (during the Korean War) to a low of 3.7 percent in 2000 (the period preceding the terrorist attacks of the following year). Government specialists are saying that DOD spending for 2014 will be in the 5% of GDP range.

An obvious reason to spend military dollars is to develop military power. Military power depends on multiple factors, including the military budgets of our allies. Spending by NATO, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, when coupled with that of the United States, accounted for a formidable 75 percent of global military spending in 2010. US and its allies military spending declined from 2005 to 2010; it is projected to fall further, to 60 percent of world-wide spending by 2015.

The number of personnel employed by the Department of Defense has declined since the 1960s. The new budget cuts and force-reduction strategies mean fewer and fewer military personnel will be employed full time by the DOD.  The sad truth of the matter is keeping people on the payroll, and all that comes with (travel, training, benefits, etc.), is a huge commitment to put on the taxpayers.

Military personnel costs have risen rapidly in the last decade in part due to rising U.S. health-care costs, and in part to the advanced medical treatment in the battlefield arena. The cost of military pay and allowances and military health care has risen almost 90 percent since 2001, while the active-duty personnel count has risen by less than 3 percent.

These are times to live within your means, to be frugal. Be patient and be frugal.

 

Your VA Mortgage Loan Awaits

Getting your finances in order and qualifying for a Veteran’s mortgage loan is worth the effort. There is no time like the present!

Granted, there has been plenty of trouble in financial markets over the last few years. Traditional loan originations for that period to now have been sharply down. Ironically,  VA guaranteed loan funding actually increased by 168% since 2007, with 14% increase in the last year alone.

VA Mortgage Loans are Popular

One of the big reasons for VA mortgage loan popularity is default and delinquency rates have been the lowest of all loan packages throughout the mortgage crisis. Delinquency rates for 90-day defaults are steady at just 2.2% for VA loans, which is less than half that of all other conventional and FHA loans. Loan specialists were initially perplexed at this seeming contradiction because on paper VA borrowers are statistically a greater default risk. Or are they?

In a recent column for the Washington Post, Kenneth Harney wrote, “Michael Frueh, the VA program’s acting director, says the key to the agency’s quiet success is its almost paternalistic emphasis on servicing its 1.5 million borrowers — moving early and quickly to intervene at the slightest hint of payment problems.”

The VA objective to keep borrowers in their homes contrasts starkly to the failure of other federally backed, but commercially serviced loan assistance programs. The VA is clearly working with an ideal of respect here; they are guiding homeowners with a paternal care. The discipline and hard work that characterizes the veteran’s military roots translates as responsible and conscientious in civilian terms.

Take a second to review a few reasons why VA home mortgage loans are so attractive:

                    No down payment is required. However, even a small down payment can significantly reduce the VA fee that is associated with the loan. The loan cannot be funded for more than the appraised value and in most states the limit for funding is $417,000.

                    Closing costs paid by the borrower are limited and oftentimes even these can be covered by the seller.  Approved closing costs of up to 4% of the total can be covered by the seller at closing. Certain costs, like termite inspection, cannot be paid by the buyer.

                    Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is not required with a VA guaranteed loan. PMI is the extra insurance that lenders require buyers to pay when they take out a loan that is usually greater than 80% the cost of their home. If you choose a VA loan, it is backed by the Federal government and lenders cannot require you to pay PMI.

                    Without having to put any money down you do not have to save 20% of the value on a home that conventional loans require. In addition, without any PMI payments you save on your monthly payment (usually between $100-$200 a month).

VA interest rates are trending lower than traditional fixed rates as VA home loans prove to have a markedly lower rate of default through the mortgage crisis. VA loan appraisals tend to be more conservative, which can limit negotiating space to add in additional costs or fees. However, in the current real estate climate, sellers are more conducive to negotiate small changes in purchase price to allow room for the fees with the loan package.

Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

Guidelines for debt-to-income ratio (DTI)  recommend a DTI of 41% maximum. Calculate DTI by adding your total mortgage payment (principal and interest, escrow deposits for taxes, hazard insurance, homeowners’ dues, etc.) and all recurring monthly revolving and installment debt (car loans, personal loans, student loans, credit cards, etc.). Then, divide it by your gross monthly income.

 

With a little planning and some genuine hard work, you can prepare to take advantage of your veteran home loan entitlement. Qualification is not meant to be automatic. But you have already proven that you can be patient, disciplined, and strategic. Start now and you’ll be in that home before you know it!

VA loans are not only attractive to the veteran lender with no or little down payment, but they are increasingly a more secure investment for lenders.

Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11

With Veteran’s Day fast approaching, there are many ways to show appreciation and support for our veterans. This Veteran’s Day gives all of us an opportunity as Americans to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans.

If you are looking for a special way to say thanks, here are a few great organizations that can always use a little help. These organizations provide great resources and support for our veterans, many of which face the challenge of a disability or severe health issues related to their military service.

Veteran’s Day is a huge event—and every year more and more businesses are stepping up with great deals for veterans and their families. In this blog I am posting an alphabetical listing of some national restaurants that are providing free meals or discounted meals on Veteran’s Day.

2013 Veterans Day Restaurant Offerings

  • Applebees – Veterans and active duty military receive a free meal from a limited menu, on Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Bar Louie – On Sunday, Nov. 10 and Monday, Nov. 11, all Bar Louie locations are offering veterans and military personnel a free meal up to a $12 value.
  • California Pizza Kitchen – Veterans and active military receive a free pizza on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Champps – On Monday, Nov. 11, Champps will offer a free handcrafted burger with waffle fries to veterans and active duty military.
  • Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse – Charlie Brown’s is offering a free meal to veterans and active duty military all day on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Cheeseburger in Paradise – Veterans and military personnel receive a free All American Burger with fries on Monday, Nov. 11 with the beverage purchase of $1.99.
  • Chili’s – Veterans and active duty can get a free entrée all day from a special limited menu on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Denny’s – Active, inactive and retired military personnel can get free all you can eat pancakes on Veterans Day nationwide.
  • FATZ – Veterans and active duty military can enjoy a free entrée at FATZ, up to a $15 value. Veterans who dine at FATZ on November 11 will also receive a $2 coupon for use on their next visit.
  • Friendly’s – Veterans and active military receive a free Big Two Do Breakfast and coffee on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Golden Corral – Golden Corral is offering a free dinner on Monday Nov. 11, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Military retirees, veterans, active duty, National Guard and Reserves are all welcome.
  • Hooters – Veterans and active duty military receive a free meal on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea House – Veterans eat for free on Monday, Nov. 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • Krispy Kreme – Krispy Kreme stores are offering a free doughnut and small coffee on Monday, Nov. 11 when presenting a military ID or wearing a uniform.
  • Little Caesars – Veterans and active military members get a free order of Crazy Bread on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Max and Erma’s – On Monday, Nov. 11, participating Max & Erma’s locations are saluting veterans and active military personnel with a free Best Cheeseburger in America Combo meal.
  • McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants – On Sunday, November 10, participating McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants will offer a complimentary entree to vets from a special menu.
  • Menchi’s – All veterans will receive a free 6 oz. frozen yogurt on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • O’Charley’s – Veterans and active duty service members get a complimentary meal from a limited menu on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Olive Garden – On Monday, Nov. 11, all veterans and current service members get a free meal from a limited menu. Family dining with them will also receive 10% off their meal.
  • On the Border – Veterans and active duty military can enjoy a free meal from the “Create Your Own Combo menu” on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Paciugo Gelato Caffè – Paciugo is offering a free 12 oz. Gelatte® to veterans and active duty military on Monday, Nov. 11 at participating locations.
  • Red Robin – Veterans and active duty military get a free Tavern Double Burger and Bottomless Steak Fries on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Shoney’s – Shoney’s will be offering a free All-American Burger to veterans and active duty service members on Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Sizzler – Sizzler is offering active duty and retired military members a free lunch from a limited menu on Monday, Nov. 11 until 4 p.m.
  • Spaghetti Warehouse – On Sunday, Nov. 10 and Monday, Nov. 11, choose one original spaghetti entrée or 15-layer lasagna and get the second entrée free. This deal requires a coupon, which is available starting Nov. 6 at the Spaghetti Warehouse website, the Facebook page, and can be presented from a mobile phone.
  • Texas Roadhouse – Texas Roadhouse locations nationwide will offer veterans a free lunch on Monday, Nov. 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Offer is good for active duty, retired or former U.S. military.
  • TGIFridays – Veterans and active duty military get a free lunch from a select menu on Monday, Nov. 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Tucanos Brazilian Grill – Active duty, reserve and retired military and veterans receive a free Churrasco meal on Monday, Nov. 11. They are also offering 10% off the entire bill for veterans and troops who dine with their families, from Friday, Nov. 8 through Veteran’s Day, Monday, Nov. 11.
  • Village Inn – All veterans and active military personnel receive a free breakfast on Monday, Nov. 11. Choose between Buttermilk Pancakes, Belgian Waffle, or French Toast.

Start with the Certificate of Eligibility

You know, there will come a day when we look back on the present and realize, probably with a degree of astonishment, how favorable the present truly [was] for buying a home. There will be those delighted with a new home and the satisfaction that they did everything they could to get their VA home mortgage loan. And there will be those without a home, sporting instead a healthy dose of regret.

The professionals at lowvarates.com have made it simple for you to apply for your veteran’s home loan. Not only do they strive to provide some of the lowest rates in the business, they have a team of working professionals who can answer all of your questions and handle all the paperwork.

Start with your COE

Your VA mortgage loan begins with your Certificate of Eligibility (VA Form 26-1880).  You can download the form right from the lowvarates.com website in the links section.  Obtaining your COE is the starting point, because even if you are already approved for a VA loan, without your COE form you cannot get a VA loan.  That’s because your COE is the VA’s way of proving to the lender that you have served sufficient time in the military and are eligible for a VA loan.

If you are the spouse of a veteran, you will apply using a different form (VA Form 26-1817). If your Veteran spouse died after service, VA must determine that the death was due to a service-connected disability. Allow 2-3 months for this process unless you know that the decision on service-connected death has already been made.

Your completed COE form goes to this address:

VA Loan Eligibility Center
Attn: COE (262)
PO Box 100034
Decatur, GA 30031

Online Resources Worth Knowing About

If you have not visited the eBenefits site the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has put together, it would be well worth your time. Not only will you find great information about obtaining your COE, you will also find additional information that you may not have thought to look into yet.

The VA has made it easy to get your COE online; simply go to the eBenefits portal at this link. If you already have login credentials, click the Login box. If you need login credentials, click the Register box and follow the directions on the screen. The eBenefits Help Desk toll-free number is 1-800-983-0937. They are open week days from 8am to 8pm EST.

The VA website has a lot of new content, much of it developed or updated in the last year. Here is a sampling of the information available:

  • Find out how the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the health care law, affects your VA Health Care.
  • Explore thousands of programs and services at the national, state, and local levels.
  • Get Common Access Card (CAC) access to your VA and DOD benefits.
  • Get personal education advice and guidance with one-on-one guidance and support from the VA.

The time is right for you to apply for your veterans home loan. Take advantage of the time, the place, and the opportunity. It can all be handled quickly and easily from within this website.

 

Raise Your Hand

Raise your hand if you are happy with the drama in Washington that led the economic concerns of the world to the brink of catastrophe.  If you believe the polls there are very few hands in the air these days, no matter political leanings. What has led us to this new low?

And, maybe the more important question, how does this paint the landscape for the next crisis? Notice I said, “the next crisis.” This latest deal buys us a few months. We have a short-term deal to fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. And then we are right back into it.

Washington, a Landscape of Dissolution

The rhetoric, the name calling, the recriminations flow from Washington in a marvelous flood reminiscent of that bygone day when politicians were poorly paid to flood the continent with well-crafted solutions to our regional and federal problems. What a hot breath now comes from this bloated and decaying mix of cadavers, this mysterious mix of millionaires that measures its worth by its tiresome loquacity.

I hear voices calling for change, calling for a cessation of this insane pattern that has developed of late, and which each time threatens to throw the US and the entire world economy into a deep recession. Some of these voices are now strident. But what are other voices to the selective listener who already has his ear-buds in before he hastens to cross the public square?

I suppose we must actually go over the precipice before we understand what it means to fall. Apparently we must completely ruin the most bountiful and prolific economic engine in the history of the world before we sit in the dust to contemplate our bare possibilities, hearts and memories overflowing with a plenty that may never again be possible.

I have no answer for the nations, including nearly every single one of our allies, who are fed up with this American inability of late to work together. (Say what you will. Through thick and thin, through depressions, world wars, and untrammeled abundance we have been doing that very thing—working together in a two-party system—for 200+ years).

I am shocked at the disregard and disrespect for the nation’s military, veterans, and civilian support community who has borne the brunt of this mindless debacle.

I am angry at the arrogance of our elected lawmakers, so universally absorbed with their pork-barrel politics that they no longer distinguish between want and need, but simply barter between themselves to keep the table full of cups brim.

I am disgusted with a Washington mentality that no longer even feigns to care about spending less than it takes in.

I am plowed under by the horrors that have been erected to future generations by the unprecedented selfishness and narrow-mindedness of this generation.

I am stressed out beyond words in a federal government that is so reckless and irresponsible.

In a few short years we have been abandoned to oblivion here.  Our elected officials have made a game, nay, a spectacle of the very business they have been elected to perform. There is now a deep and disturbing history of that selfishness and abandonment. It is raw and open − anyone who cares to can lift his head from the larder and observe.

I am shocked that grown men and women, guilty of neglect in such terminal and heinous doses, still have their jobs and still have the support of rational beings. If there is any sympathy left in these dried and whitened bones, I suppose it goes to the few who are the in the death struggle of trying to reign in government spending and balance the budget.

I say I have sympathy for these few tired souls. I am not sympathetic to their tactics; I am sympathetic to their morals, which would ask the rest of the great laughingstock to come off of their perches and live as the rest of us must live. They have my sympathy because they battle a bully who knows its size and power mean it does not have to live by any rule it does not want to observe. And so it goes.

My question to this great Republic of America is why? Why do these elected senators and congressmen still have the support of the people? Could a worse thing happen than the misery they have carefully crafted for the rest of us to live by? If change is even possible at this point I feel it can happen only in the way we change an infant’s soiled diaper. Changing it means to take it off and throw it away. Clean up the mess. Start over with a clean cloth.

I have a sinking feeling that America still sponsors such blatant buffoonery because, in a sense, we have all been invited to the banquet. Every person wants to spear one more olive or caper-encrusted sardine before the great famine begins. And don’t kid yourself into thinking there is no famine ahead in the reckoning.

Congress has been feckless in its principles and cavalier in its excess. The buffet table Washington has created now stretches across its abundant acres. Anyone who will can find a seat and eat to his content, absent the idea that the food was somewhere planted, cultivated, reaped, and gathered by real people whose purpose in all of it was to make a living. Fading is the idea that labor is necessary part of living. From it come the virtues that sustain a society.

We are mammoth in our dimensions and hoggish in our wants. This particular brand of gluttony infecting our nation was once famously labeled and roundly acknowledged to be a deadly sin. It was dishonest and wrong to take when you could provide and to lie down when you could work. We are galloping dead away from the idea that it is wrong to live off of the government. There is no future in this. It is unsustainable.

Only those who have ever picked up a shovel and dug can know the depth of the hole we are in. The great detritus mound we have erected beside this cavernous pit is so encumbered with the claims of the entitled that there is little hope to ever again see level ground. Deficit-spending digging continues under a most startling credo: there can be no bottom!

There are no innocents in Washington. No, not one.

I am one voice. Is anyone listening in Washington?

I want to see a plan. I want to see a budget. I want to see an honest effort to solve this problem and to stop this lie. These last 15 years have been the great federal farce. It has to rank as one of the great governmental abandonments in history. I do not make the charge lightly. Its seriousness is compounded by its democratic pedigree. How could a country of elected officials—called to be responsible, entrusted to be exemplary, oath-bound to be civil servants—so easily and completely forget the most basic things about being in their place?

We are well into the third act of this three-act play. My hope is in the age-old tradition that resolves the conflict and restores order in the third act. The time is spent and the actors have but a few lines remaining before the curtain falls. I sense a citizen audience leaning anxiously forward now, nervously glancing to one another for some glimmer of comprehension.

What we in this audience burn to know is if we are going to get punked. Will the comedy advertised on the billboards turn out to be the greatest of tragedies in our time.

7 Steps to Improving Your Finances

Getting into your own home is one of the biggest financial events (and commitments) of your life. For the great majority of Americans, getting into a home requires planning, thought, and preparation.

Most of us need a financial partner to get into that home. So we look for a lender we can trust, someone with a proven track record, someone knowledgeable and professional that can attend to all the details so we don’t have to. 

Getting the right financial partner is key—and that is why I’m recommending lowvarates.com to you veterans for your  VA home loan mortgage needs. Having the right partner is half the job; the other half is to get your financial house in order. The better kept your finances, the greater your options in working with a lender.

Here are seven things you can do to get your financial house in order.

First:  Organize Your Spending

It’s really no fun to sit down and go over finances. But the willingness to perform and audit, to see where your money is going and then evaluate those choices, is the start of something big.  Pull your bank statements and/or credit card statements for the last twelve months, get out a pack of bright colored highlighters, and organize your spending into categories. Prioritize things! Be sure to pay yourself first with a direct deposit into savings and retirement accounts.

Second: See Yourself Bigger

One of your largest assets is your earning power. Almost everyone has certain skills or interests that come naturally. Believe in yourself a little more. Start small and convert that skill or interest into a revenue stream. Some of the most successful people begin modestly with something that they have a passion for.

Look for ways to add value to your work, and don’t be afraid to ask for a raise or bonus for your contributions. If you are not being paid what you are worth, then see what other opportunities may be available to you.

Third: There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills, uhm, Closets!

Ever play hide and seek? Sure you have. It’s time to play it again. But this time you are going to find stuff that is hiding right under your nose. Look for old cameras, furniture, clothing, knick-knacks: anything that you can list on Craigslist or EBay. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars are hiding in the nooks and crannies throughout your house.

Also, pay your folks or the in-laws a visit. They may have saved a lot of that “old stuff” from your earlier years. Often these items are a gold mine you forgot you had. You can sell them and use that money for something that will bring you more enjoyment.

Fourth: Sharpen Your Investment Strategies

Your investments deserve a plan. A plan means you have made an intelligent decision about how much of your money should be in cash, equities, and bonds, and then within each of those categories which sub-class it should be in such as international equities, small cap, or emerging markets.

Managing your different accounts means that you rebalance them according to economic conditions so the right amount is in each category. If you have money in both pre-tax retirement accounts and after-tax brokerage accounts then it may make sense to put bonds in pre-tax accounts to make your portfolio is more tax efficient.

Fifth: Hire Professionals When Needed

Having certain things done for you is a solid strategy, especially when it means getting things done right.  You can read books about investing and hunt and peck all your life for a little extra scratch in the soil. Or, you can look around, ask around, and find a great financial partner that has a history of maximizing investments.

When you know it needs to be done, but you aren’t going to get it done yourself, hire the right people to do it for you. Before you hire someone to get your finances in order, decide what you need from them. Financial planning, investment advice, and retirement planning are separate services. Talk to people you trust, determine which type of services you need, and interview several people before picking one. Go slow and don’t get talked into anything. Don’t play Russian Roulette with your money.

Sixth: Swab the Decks, Matey!

A ship is in order when its decks are clean. With finances, you may not enjoy some of the seemingly thankless tasks that constitute housekeeping. But keep house! A little discipline goes a long way. If you eat out once less per week and bank it, a simple little choice results in hundreds extra per year.  See how much you can save. Then, if it makes sense to do so, snip off a portion of that as “mad money” and reward yourself with something modest but motivational that you really would not have expected to get under “business as usual.”

Seventh: Hit the Library

Hang up the video games, the online activities, the social media, or whatever else is stealing hours from your day. Give up something good to get something better. Apply yourself by reading, by learning something new. Find a way to apply it. Learning is a life-long process. You can increase your income and your savings by reading and committing to an ongoing process of learning. Choose a topic that will advance your career. Choose a subject that will advance or assist your fellow man. Give something back. You’ll feel a lot better about life and about yourself.

Military Drones – Increasingly the Weapon of the Future

The modern military importance of drone (unmanned) aircraft cannot be overstated. Whatever the debate going forward, military drone use ( like the Predator, Reaper, and Hawk) has exploded in the last 10-12 years. Drones have changed the way the US wages war; they have been used and even depended on in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns to conduct surveillance and attack missions in remote and inaccessible areas. Their greatest value to the military is likely always understated and most probably classified information. 

And it is ironic that we are here, particularly with President Obama in the White House. The President ran for office in 2008 against what he described as excesses of counterterrorism under President George W. Bush. Nearly six years later (and benefitting from the knowledge of what actually works)  it is apparent the President is committed to fighting terrorism the same way it has been fought for the last 13 years.

The President has grown up

Obama’s hasty promise to the world of more transparency and less military presence, has taken a hit at home and abroad. He has been in many ways more secretive and less disclosing about US military tactics—particularly weapons and tactics that are being used to combat international terrorism and threats to US interests. Not long ago the President refused to comment on the acceleration of American drone strikes in Yemen.

I am not being entirely critical here. I am saying that it was easy for the enterprising Senator Obama to talk on these subjects. That man, now the President of the United States, has discovered that dealing with terrorism and terrorists requires a policy and a willingness to take action. Give him credit here: he is directly involved and taking regular action. More on that below.

Recently Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and other terrorist organizations have been flooding Africa. Drones seem to be not only the most logical response to the challenges of dealing with these organizations, but by far the most economical. The US has an operational drone base in Africa—the drones are operating from an air strip at a remote location in Djibouti. The Pentagon continues to evaluate and adjust its drone strategy, as it increases its dependence on drones to keep an eye on militant groups that are operating in eastern Africa.

How many drones does the U.S have and how much do they cost?

According to recent reports, the Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. The fiscal year 2012 budget included nearly $5 billion for unclassified drone research, development and procurement.  The CIA has about 30 Predator and Reaper drones, which are operated by Air Force pilots from a U.S. military base in an unnamed U.S. state. The Department of Homeland Security has at least 10 unarmed Predator drones. The cost per flight hour varies by type of drone. Predator and Reaper drones cost about $2,500-3,500 per flight hour; larger armed drones like the Global Hawk cost about 10 times as much: up to $30,000 per flight hour.

Who decides when and how drones will be used?

The military and the CIA are the two primary US groups using drones abroad. Decisions to use drones for surveillance are generally made within the usual military and civilian chain-of-command structures. The process for deciding to use drones for strikes—particularly in countries that are not declared combat zones—is less well known.

Interesting reports generated by the American Security Project claim that as often as weekly, 100+ members of a national security team gather via teleconference to sift through intelligence, biographies, and photos of terrorism suspects. The decision to target known terrorists is made in the meeting—it is the President who approves the decision to use deadly force.

Regulation of drone use depends primarily on the location in which they are deployed. In declared combat zones (such as Afghanistan), there are clear rules of engagement and chain of command. In countries not declared combat zones (such as Yemen), the U.S. is supposed to work with the government of the country in which it is operates drones. There are significant lapses in meeting this requirement.  The biggest example of that is Pakistan, who has been incensed at drone attacks conducted within its borders.

The Obama Administration has not officially stated where and how it employs lethal drone strikes. While the President has officially acknowledged that covert strikes do occur in places such as Yemen and Somalia, there are no specifics about the extent of the programs and precise deployment of drones for lethal strikes.

Drone Use and International Law

The US is not without its critics on using drones for military missions. There have been many in the international community decrying the use of drones, particularly when those drones conduct operations within the boundaries of sovereign countries without any declaration of war. US officials have not yet directly cited any law in justifying the use of drones. They have justified drone use to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which states that a state has “the inherent right of individual or collective defense” until the UN security council takes action.

Critics argue that this failure to provide legal justification implicates the US in violating international legal frameworks on interstate force and national sovereignty. These critics also contend that US drone programs in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen set a dangerous precedent that could lead to any nation with strike-capable drones employing similar tactics, which could lead to a “global drone war.”

If the list of drones being developed around the globe is any indication, I would say drone use is not just the new way the US is operating, but it is the new way in which the nations of the world intend to conduct their future military operations

Terrorist Attack in Kenya

It has been a week since the murderous and evil attack on the Westgage Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The mall is secured, partly demolished, and Kenyan officials say that US and British experts are helping gather forensic evidence and conduct an investigation of just exactly who these terrorists were that committed these heinous crimes against humanity. Some 70 innocents dead, twice that number wounded. And why? I applaud this investigation and its pursuit of these cowardly murderers. The world is fed up and weary of these monsters who go about targeting civilians and killing just to kill. Basta! Enough.

Who is Al-Shabaab?

Al-Shabaab, is the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the attack. If there is a more troubled country than Somalia I don’t know what it would be. And maybe the lawlessness of Somalia can be a starting point of understanding. The pure chaos of these groups is astonishing. They operate with utter brutality, showing not even the least regard for human life or dignity. They are killers first, going about instituting their own radical interpretations of Sharia (law). But they are not building anything; they are going about killing anything that is not like them. Ask yourself, “what can possibly be the future of that mentality?”

Al-Shabaab means “The Youth” in Arabic. The group uses a mixture of religion, nationalism, and deception to lure young people (many of them Somalis) according to  Omar Jamal, a longtime activist who now serves as the first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations.

“They misinform people, and they target young, impressionable kids,” Jamal said. “They literally brainwash them. It’s a very dangerous cult.”

The largest Somali community in the US is in Minnesota. About six years ago some of these Somali-Americans began leaving Minnesota to become part of Al-Shabaab. Now there are preliminary reports that some of the Al-Shabaab terrorists involved in the Nairobi Mall violence were those who had been a part of the Somali community in Minnesota. If this proves to be true, it is a testament to how difficult and protracted this war on terrorism may prove to be for the civilized nations of the world.

Look beyond this catastrophe in Kenya. The Syrian civil war has become a magnet for thousands of enterprising jihadists from all over the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in Europe and North America. The once largely moderate and secular Syrian Free Army has been progressively displaced by better-organized and better-funded jihadist groups that have direct links with al-Qaeda.

And the other side! Who is the other side—who are the rebels? Intelligence estimates suggest that as much as 80% of the effective rebel fighting forces are non-Syrian mercenaries. If the rebels do nothing more than hold the territory under their control in the northern and eastern parts of the country, they might end up controlling a vast area that borders an ever more fragile-looking Iraq. Yes, THAT Iraq, where al-Qaeda is currently murdering as many as 1,000 civilians a month. What might that new state look like?

Since 2007, at least 22 young men have left the American state of Minnesota to join Al-Shabaab. Unconfirmed reports are that two more left earlier this month. You have to ask yourself why. I do.

Kenyan President Kenyatta said Tuesday that initial reports had suggested a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack. There has been no confirmation of this report. You can bet that the investigative teams are digging for every scrap of evidence that will lead them to those who belong to this mindset. I say, “good.” Good. Find these terrorists, all of them.

Terrorists only do terror. They don’t get what they want and suddenly start living by the established rules of another order. No. They only bow to one rule, which is to kill and to kill some more, always and evermore. Understanding the enemy is the first step in defeating the enemy.

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