Two summers ago, I was at a conference where Shinseki spoke about housing homeless veterans. The speech went on a little long, but there was little doubt how serious he was in his goal to provide housing for our very best citizens. In the last year, Shinseki followed through on almost everything he outlined on that hot day.
You may remember Shinseki from the early years of the Iraq War. He was later removed from his post as Army chief of staff when he told Donald Rumsfeld that we were not sending enough support to our troops in Iraq.
President Barack Obama appointed Shinseki to the VA, probably in part as a way to show that he can make a bold choice. After all, Shinseki came into the job with almost no institutional knowledge of the homeless situation in the United States.
I realized that the general was uncertain on many of these housing programs while sitting a few rows behind him at a congressional hearing. But Shinseki brought with him two things that helped: he was serious about helping soldiers and he was willing to take advice from other cabinet officials, like Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
At the beginning of 2012, veterans are one percent of our population, but they are ten percent of our homeless population. In the last year, however, homelessness among veterans has dropped 12 percent. That means that over 33,000 homeless veterans have been housed in the last year.
Maybe it's coincidental, but there is good reason to think that federal programs such as the HUD's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, are working. Little by little, the administration is making good on its goal to get all veterans off the street. Shinseki should be given a lot of credit. He is this column’s person of the year.
Potential in North Korea
Kim Jong-un, the uniquely unqualified leader of North Korea, actually offers hope for peace with Communist North Korea.
Foreign policy types who think that a 29 year old heading a nuclear nation is a bad idea need only think back a few weeks when his unhinged father was in charge. With editorials from the North Korean news service asserting that the country's Army is ready for war, the new boy-president might be less inclined to saber rattle with the West.
Why is there any reason to think that this is possible?
Kim Jong-un was educated outside of North Korea. He has experienced Westernized culture, and he might not want to go to war with it. This is true of China’s leadership as well. With Kim Jong-un in charge, there are now Western-educated leaders in both China and North Korea. It does not mean that they will sympathize with the West, but there is less of a cultural divide.
Jong-un will be advised to keep all media and communications away from the general public in North Korea. The minute that the North Koreans realize how utterly poor they are, there could be an upheaval that would make the Egyptian protests look like a clam bake.
For now, however, the new leader can make incremental changes that make him popular and make the country more open to the world.