Permissible Arms

The Sound of Swinging Upward

Posted in united states, us military by Karaka on 10 September 2010

A piece of good news going into the weekend:

A federal court in Riverside, California, ruled Thursday that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — which bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly — is unconstitutional.

“Plaintiff has demonstrated it is entitled to the relief sought on behalf of its members, a judicial declaration that the don’t ask, don’t tell act violates the Fifth and First Amendments, and a permanent injunction barring its enforcement,” concluded U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, a 1999 Clinton appointee.

The 85-page ruling came in a case filed by the group Log Cabin Republicans against the government and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“The act discriminates based on the content of the speech being regulated,” Phillips wrote. “It distinguishes between speech regarding sexual orientation, and inevitably, family relationships and daily activities, by and about gay and lesbian servicemembers, which is banned, and speech on those subjects by and about heterosexual servicemembers, which is permitted.”

But, she noted, “the sweeping reach of the restrictions on speech in the don’t ask, don’t tell act is far broader than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest at stake here.”

From CNN. Not unlike the Prop 8 overturn, there’s still a long road to travel on this. And again, it’s both a potentially good and very precarious thing that the ruling was made in federal court. On the one hand there’s nowhere to go but up; on the other, the stakes are high that if either case loses, it loses hard. Still, it’s hard not to feel hopeful.

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Now where’s my flag pin?

Posted in united states, us congress, us military, us politics by Karaka on 27 May 2010

I am utterly bushed, but I couldn’t let the House’s repeal of DADT go unmentioned.

From Reuters:

The House of Representatives voted 234-194 to approve an amendment aimed at ending the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexuals to serve in secret but expels them if their sexual orientation becomes known.

What a wonderful thing to kick off Memorial Day. And not even as dramariffic as Blog Kerfluffle Mark II: How the Axe Swings!

It’s a good weekend to feel patriotic. I hope you all enjoy it.

Errata for Tuesday

Posted in afghanistan, american media, united states, us military by Karaka on 20 April 2010

Steve Coll is reporting from Afghanistan this month; I always find him a measured read, and these reports are no different.

To the extent that this pre-negotiating of clearing operations succeeds, not all of the Kandahar campaign may require a lot of shooting.

In some respects the campaign has already begun. Special Forces and C.I.A. task forces have captured seventy mid-level Taliban commanders in Kandahar Province in raids over the last two months, and they have killed dozens of other mid-level commanders, those of us travelling with Mullen were told. (This has degraded the Taliban’s provincial leadership, according to U.S. assessments, and created some confusion and mistrust in monitored Taliban communications. However, the replacement commanders are typically younger than their predecessors, and if they are less skilled, they may also be more vicious and bitter.) In any event, it is a basic precept of revised U.S. strategy in Afghanistan that international forces cannot “capture and kill” their way to victory. The critical aspects of the Kandahar campaign will be political.

I wish he didn’t put period after every letter in the acronyms he uses, because it messes with my line reading, but hey, stupid quibbles in an otherwise solid document. Further down the page, commenter Carter_Nicholas_Charlottesville has a very, very good response.

Dr Jeffrey Groh is moderating the DIME blog this month, which I tend to find hit-or-miss as a resource. He starts with a discussion of network-centric warfare that’s worth a read to dig into the comments (hey, they opened the comments!).

Kings of War moved! Jesus I’m out of the loop. If I’ve messed up a link to your site please do let me know.

I was amused to see this cable from PRT Kunar, Navy Reservist, farmer becomes mayor in Afghanistan:

U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Lewis Nunemaker, a farmer from Argos, Ind., has volunteered after 29 years in the Navy to have his last hurrah at a small forward operating base nestled at the bottom of the scenic, but unforgiving, mountain ranges of eastern Afghanistan. Trading in his sea legs for a land locked last journey near the border of Pakistan, the 49-year-old man now wears a very unique hat: mayor of Camp Wright.

“I wish I had done this earlier in my career,” Nunemaker said, as he sat on a weathered and broken couch in his small office that serves as the mayor’s cell. “It really forces you to lead from the front. You have to keep pushing every day here.”

David Wood, who remains one of my favorite reporters on the US military, reports on Afghan vets and paintball:

The majority of troops, of course, didn’t feel the need for specific treatment – but they do seize the chance to blow off steam. At Fort Drum’s paintball facility, retired Sgt. Maj. Gene Spencer, recreation manager, said he offers all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile rides, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, sky diving — any kind of adventure sports soldiers can think up.

“The whole point of this is to ease the mind-set these kids come back with from the killing,” he told me. “To keep soldiers out of trouble you gotta occupy their minds, let them unwind in a controlled environment.”

Several weeks after the troops got back, Spencer had the soldiers and their wives in for paintball. It turned out to be a joyfully explosive release of tension for couples struggling with difficult emotional and financial problems.

Wood manages to convey sympathy without ever undercutting difficulty, and that something I admire about him and his coverage. He’s also done some similarly cogent yet removed work on DADT that is worth reading. Additionally, Stars and Stripes published this flash article, If the military’s gay ban is reversed, what would change? It’s generally unbiased, though the questions it poses to answer seem more bent towards answering concerns that those not affected by DADT’s repeal might have rather than addressing the repeal itself in any critical fashion.

I had roughly 3000 items in my google reader from the last time I was rifling through the many (many many many) sites I follow and have hacked it down to under 400. That’s my accomplishment for the week; but please forgive if I end up retreading old ground as I read backwards.

And then I had to take a little reality break

Posted in us military, us politics by Karaka on 13 October 2009

President Obama spoke before the Human Rights Council on Saturday, reaffirming his committment to ending DADT:

“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country,” Mr Obama said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage.”

Mr Obama did not give a timetable for repeal of the policy, passed by Congress in 1993, under which thousands of service members have been discharged.The US president has repeatedly pledged to tackle issues important to the gay community. But he has faced criticism for what many in the gay community see as lack of action on his promises. Mr Obama asked the audience to trust his administration.

“I appreciate that many of you don’t believe progress has come fast enough. Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach,” he said.

This was followed Sunday by an unrelated march in Washington in support of gay rights:

Impatient and discouraged by what they see as a certain detachment by President Obama on their issues, gay rights supporters took to the streets Sunday in the largest demonstration for gay rights here in nearly a decade. The rally was primarily the undertaking of a new generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates who have grown disillusioned with the movement’s leadership.

Known as Stonewall 2.0 or the Prop. 8 Generation (a reference to the galvanizing effect that the repeal of California’s same-sex marriage law had on many young people), these activists, in their 20s and 30s, are at odds with advocates urging patience as Mr. Obama grapples with other pieces of his domestic agenda like the health care overhaul and the economic recovery.

And this occurred just as Voices of Honor concluded last week in California:

According to Nicholson, the toll “don’t ask, don’t tell” has taken on the U.S. military is far greater than the estimated 13,000 servicemembers actually discharged under the policy “either because they admitted being Gay or Lesbian, were ‘outed’ or were caught having ‘homosexual acts.’ We also estimate that about 3,000 people leave the service every year” because they no longer wish to hold down a job that forces them to lie about who they are as a condition of continued employment. Nicholson also said that probably even more language and intelligence specialists are being forced out than official figures would indicate, because “’linguist’ is a specialized field and a liot of people who know languages aren’t qualified as ‘linguists’ — including me.”

Nicholson said he was a “human intelligence coordinator” in the Army until 2002, when he was discharged after being “outed” by someone in his unit. “I tried to contain the information,” he said, “but once it got to command, they decided to rout me out quickly.” Not everybody is pushed out as fast as he was, he added; enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is left largely up to commanders in the field, and as a result implementation varies widely. “There are many people serving openly today,” he said — thanks to superior officers being willing to leave them alone — “and you don’t find the underlying rationale, the alleged threat to unit cohesion, morale and combat readiness, has come to pass.”

and Joseph Rocha’s op-ed in the WP:

However, I chose to put service above my personal life. My understanding of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was that if I kept quiet about my sexuality and didn’t break any rules, I would face no punishment. I was wrong.

Once I joined the Navy, I was tormented by my chief and fellow sailors, physically and emotionally, for being gay. The irony of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply. Now, after a Youth Radio investigation of the abuses I suffered, the chief of naval operations ordered a thorough study of how the Navy handled the situation and is currently reviewing the document. I’m hopeful that the case will be reopened and top leadership finally held accountable for the lives they have ruined.

and an AP article indicating that women are more likely to be discharged under DADT than men:

Pentagon officials won’t speculate why women in uniform are more likely to be discharged from the armed services under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but critics of the policy say that new figures reflect deep-seated sexism in the armed forces.

Government statistics show that more than 619 men and women were discharged last year because of their sexual orientation. Of those, one-third were women — even though they account for 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members.

and Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has stated he will hold a hearing on DADT this fall:

Congress is set to hold hearings as early as this month on the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military, according to a centrist Democratic congresswoman. Should they take place, the hearings would be the first on the provision opposed by many Democratic lawmakers as unjust and antiquated.

“I think we’ll have one this fall. And I’m looking forward to trying to have one for the Armed Services Committee probably in October or November,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has long opposed the provision, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

I think DADT is stupid, and I’ve been involved in a couple discussions hither and yon around the fair internet about it since Levin announced the probable hearing and Obama was slated to speak before the HRC. It’s a little remarkable how many times I’ve been told by purportedly straight people, civilians and servicemembers, that gay people should just shut and serve; but I think much of the above linked material, from reputable sources, indicates that serving isn’t that easy when discrimination is pervasive. My rubric is this: if a straight person can come to work and talk about Suzie Rottencrotch from last libo; if a straight person can come to work and talk about their wife or husband, praising or bitching about them; if a straight person can come to work and not have to censor their own personal lives for fear of losing their jobs; then the question of whether silence equals service is irrelevant, because by not talking about those things, a queer servicemember isolates and identifies him/herself as much as if they talked about it.

To claim that DADT enables gay servicemembers to serve is patently false, as the 13,000 people who have been discharged can attest; to claim that enforcing a code of dishonesty and silence somehow maintains the integrity of the service itself is a logical fallacy; and to claim that such a code of silence somehow protects queer servicemembers from being identified as queer and frequently subsequently incurring their dismissal from the service comes from a wholly entitled point of view that ignores reality.

That being said, it looks like this matter has come to the forefront whether the “time is now” or not.

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In defence of our fellow human.

Posted in us military, us politics by Karaka on 5 October 2009

In this edition of Joint Force Quarterly, USAF Colonel Om Prakash’s award-winning article The Efficacy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t mince words when he argues that DADT should be repealed. NPR has an article that pretty much sums up why I think it’s important (aside from the obvious):

Belkin says, though there may be more, he can recall only one other military publication that has printed a strong pro-repeal article: a 2003 piece written by Belkin himself for Parameters, the U.S. Army War College quarterly. In addition, he can recall only one other active duty officer, besides Prakash, to air pro-repeal views publicly: a 2005 opinion piece written for the Army Times by an active-duty lieutenant colonel at West Point.

Writing about the law is a common phenomenon at military colleges, Belkin says. Prakash wrote his essay while a student at the National War College. In 2005, a West Point student won the school’s senior thesis competition with a piece that argued that the ban violates military values.

“What’s different about this is that it was published in an official military journal, and it’s pretty important that he would speak publicly,” Belkin says.

As any activist knows, the most powerful voices for change come not from those who the change affects directly, but from those within the institutions perpetuating discrimination and inequality. I read the article over the weekend, and considering that Obama stated repeatedly during his campaign that the repeal of DADT would be an issue for him (though I’m not one to take campaign problems particularly seriously), this seems to be an article with judicious timing.

I encourage you to read it yourself, if only because it seems likely to be pull-quoted a lot when/if this debate ramps up next year. But here’s some of the grafs I found particularly enlightening.

Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Servicemembers under the law.

The NPR article above ups that to thirteen thousand, with an estimated 65,000 gay/lesbian servicemembers [over time, I assume]. That, for some context, is just under four brigades dismissed, using the upper personnel limit. In raw numbers, a bit wasteful.

In a report released in February 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated the financial impact to be at least $190.5 million for the previous ten years of DADT policy. However, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission, that included former Secretary of Defense William Perry questioned the report’s methodology. The commission faulted the GAO for not including recruiting and separation costs that brought the 10-year estimate to $363 million. Also worth noting is that these figures do not account for the additional opportunity costs of high-profile, prized specialties such as Arabic speakers.

See above re: wasteful.

This leads to the conclusion that integration of open homosexuals might degrade social cohesion because of the lack of homogeneity; however, the effects can be mitigated with leadership and will further dissipate with familiarity. More importantly, task cohesion should not be affected and is in fact the determinant in group success. Given that homosexuals who currently serve do so at great personal expense and professional risk, RAND interviews suggest such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values, professional teamwork, physical stamina, loyalty, and selfless service–all key descriptors of task cohesion.

Do so at great personal expense…such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values. In my view, the crux of this argument reflects the identity of personhood. Homosexuals are people, first, just like heterosexuals are people first. According this basic acknowledgment of personhood is an essential step to the framing of the discussion. Thus, gay equality rights are human rights, and the denial of service in our military is the denial of a human right we grant our citizens, from which you can infer that gay citizens are not believed to be citizens at all. “Liberty and justice for all” extends beyond mere characteristics, and the essential personhood of humans; the commitment of some individuals to a service that requires their compromised integrity speaks, I think, to the value placed on that service, and the humanity inherent in those individuals.

Those opposed to lifting the ban point out that the living conditions of the military would at times make it impossible to guarantee privacy throughout the spectrum of sexual orientation. But would such measures actually be necessary? Considering that estimates put 65,000 as the number of homosexuals serving in the military, would revealing their identities lead to a collapse of moral and discipline?…Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and former Army platoon leader, illustrates an additional point: “Just like in the general population, there is a generational shift within the military. The average 18-year-old has been around gay people, has seen gay people in popular culture, and they’re not this boogeyman in the same way they were to Pete Pace’s generation.”

Brief snarky aside: I mean, how many of them voted for Adam Lambert on American Idol, after all? (Snarky aside concluded.) Look, sixteen years ago you could have tenuously made the argument that gay people didn’t exist because you had never met someone who was gay. Now, given that Mary Cheney is as thrust into the public eye as Ellen DeGeneres, those arguments become impossible to support. As people who are queer come into positions of power, or at least as their family members do, the invisibility of homosexuality in our culture is eroded, and discrimination becomes less supportable. As Nate Silver calculated earlier this year, “By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024.” It’s not that far away, and we are moving ever closer to the integration of these civil rights.

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

And additionally, as the US services have interacted with other NATO troops, it has been proven as a corollary that American troops can serve alongside troops whose countries have lifted the ban, which presumably included gay servicemen and women.

In an attempt to allow homosexual Servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of “equality for all,” places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.

A succint thesis, one I think Prakash defended successfully.

Based on the research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.

I would stand up and clap, but it can’t be textually rendered. Anyway, give the whole article a read. It seems likely that it will be referenced in the inevitably forthcoming debate–after all, Senator Harry Reid has asked Obama to address this issue last month, and Senator Carl Levin stated he would have a Senate hearing on the matter in October. I suspect the Obama administration would like to bump this out to 2010, but they may not have a choice in the matter.

Waiting, Wishing, Hoping

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 1 October 2009

This just in: Nate Silver is my hero. Mind, this has nothing at all to do with foreign policy, the military, or US politics; I just really like it when smart people get their smart-ass on in service of pointing out grave blunders.

Nifty photos of the Navy Command Center of the Future from CNET. It reminds me not a little of the Star Trek Enterprise set. Now, I ask again: where is my jet pack?

Peter Galbraith was dismissed by the UN envoy to Afghanistan, which is in line with the Western support for the Karzai in the Afghan election. I still come down on the side that considers it a pretty bad call to support a president who rigged the election, and stability cannot be won long-term when situations such as this are so clearly corrupt. You can’t blind yourself to the problem without it coming to bite you in the ass; one can’t help but wonder if this call will end up throwing support to the Taliban who have taken over governance of over 200 provinces in Afghanistan; in sum, all they have to do is wait and point at the ways corruption is overtaking the government.

Thanks to Starbuck for the link to the Boston Globe’s hi res pictures of Afghanistan from last month. They are universally remarkable, but this one took my breath away:

The Globe also has an article detailing a response to DADT out of the Pentagon in Joint Force Quarterly, which was just made available today. The article in question is here, and I’m hoping to read it tonight. A quote pulled from the article:

“After a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly,’’ writes Colonel Om Prakash, who is now working in the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.’’

You know, of a handful of disappointments I’ve had since Obama took office, his reversal of his stance of DADT was probably the most disheartening. When the flipping JFC is publishing an article in favour of a review of DADT, it’s time to get your ass moving, O Commander in Chief. Temporizing does nothing but make you look less and less support of those individuals you purposefully named in thanks in your acceptance speech last November. It’s a year later, and I’m waiting.

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