Article

Military: Ready for Repeal

At a time when the military faces a readiness crisis, the Pentagon can ill-afford to dismiss two service members a day as it is doing under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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GOOD NEWS

Yesterday in a vote of 241-185, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier for workers to organize and establishing stronger penalties for employers who intimidate workers. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) will reintroduce an identical bill in the Senate soon.


STATE WATCH

WASHINGTON: “A domestic-partnership bill for gay and lesbian couples appears headed for state law.” 

MARYLAND: Maryland will likely become the second state to apologize for slavery.

KENTUCKY: Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) “pardoned members of his staff in the midst of a patronage probe to try to keep the investigation from incriminating anyone in the governor’s office.”

LOUISIANA: Minority neighborhoods around New Orleans face “toxic threats from dump sites that have cropped up in the wake up hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Army Spokesman: Injured vets “can go to Starbucks” if they want to speak with the media.

TECH PRESIDENT: “No more McCain in MySpace.”

BLOG FOR OUR FUTURE: Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro: “Lesbianism among young women” is on the rise because society has decided to “tolerate” it.

CHRONICLE NEWS WATCH
: A “little tone-deaf,” President Bush hands out American flags to Katrina victims.


DAILY GRILL

“I want to join you in welcoming our guests and our witnesses today, having known especially Don Arthur and General Kiley very, very well over the years. … I know that these gentlemen are committed to providing our war heroes with the very, very best medical care that is possible.”
— Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), 1/19/07

VERSUS

“In 2004, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and his wife stopped visiting the wounded at Walter Reed out of frustration. … ‘When Bev or I would bring problems to the attention of authorities of Walter Reed, we were made to feel very uncomfortable,’ said Young.”
— Washington Post, 3/1/07, noting that Young had known about the neglect at Walter Reed under Kiley for years


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 March 2, 2007
Ready for Repeal
Go Beyond The Headlines
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Ready for Repeal

Since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy went into effect, the Pentagon has dismissed more than 11,000 servicemembers, many of whom have key specialty skills such as training in medicine and language. At a time when the military faces a readiness crisis, the Pentagon can ill-afford to dismiss two service members a day as it is doing under the current policy. The time is right for repeal. Recent polling shows a large majority of military personnel are comfortable with gays and lesbians, and nearly a quarter of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars knew that someone in their unit was gay. High-profile military leaders, such as former Joint Chiefs chairman John M. Shalikashvili, have called for repeal. In May, Ret. Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, the first woman to achieve the rank of three-star general in the Army, also called for repeal of the law, saying it is “a hollow policy that serves no useful purpose.” “The truth is something’s wrong with this ban,” retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American soldier to be seriously wounded in Iraq, said yesterday. “You’re asking men and women to lie about their orientation, to keep their personal lives private, so they can defend the rights and freedoms of others in this country.” The Urban Institute estimates 65,000 lesbian and gay Americans are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is time to allow these heroes serve their country openly and without fear of dismissal. Make your voice heard here.

TIME IS RIGHT FOR REPEAL: Last December, Zogby Interactive polled servicemembers who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan on their views on homosexuality. Seventy-three percent of those polled were comfortable around gays and lesbians, 55 percent said the “presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well known by others,” and 21 percent of those in combat units knew for sure that someone in their unit is gay. A 2004 poll found a majority of junior enlisted servicemembers believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16 percent in 1992. “There has been a seismic shift among the military and the public in favor of welcoming gay patriots in our armed forces,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). For the first time, the student body of Uniformed Services University (USU) elected an openly gay student council president. Last summer, “a West Point graduate received a prestigious academic award for his thesis opposing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.” Anecdotal evidence also points to a changing attitude within the military ranks. “Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines,” Shalikashvili wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed. “These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.” Alva said of his experience, “I have tons and tons of friends that were in the military at the time who knew I was gay because I confided in them. Everybody had the same reaction: ‘What’s the big deal?'” “Being on the front lines and serving with the people who even actually knew that I was gay, you know, that was never a factor,” Alva said. “We were there to do a job.” Twenty-four countries allow open service by gays and lesbians, including nine nations that “have fought alongside American troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” A University of California, Berkeley study of these foreign militaries, “suggests that lifting bans on homosexual personnel does not threaten unit cohesion or undermine military effectiveness.”

AN ISSUE OF READINESS: Entrenched in two major wars, the U.S. military is stretched thin and thousands of troops are being deployed unready for combat. The approximately 11,000 gays and lesbians discharged since 1993 would account for more than one-third of the total number of troops in Afghanistan. With American troops being called back for multiple tours of duty in the Middle East, the current discharge rate of two soldiers a day makes little logistical sense. A study conducted last year for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network showed that the U.S. military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays and lesbians were allowed to be open about their sexual orientation. Approximately 800 of those who have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were specialists with “some training in an occupation identified . . . as ‘critical.’” In a hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed the need for more service members with foreign language skills for covert operations, yet 322 of those discharged had skills in critical languages such as Arabic, Farsi, or Korean. Furthermore, the discharged and subsequent recruitment associated with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is estimated to have cost taxpayers $364 million dollars. “The real issue here is that you have a policy that is costing us money, hurting readiness and is really not fulfilling any national security objective,” said Lawrence Korb, a Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and former Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. “It just doesn’t make sense now, particularly when you’re having such a hard time getting people to join the military and retaining them in the right skills.”

CONGRESS TAKES AIM AT REPEAL: “Our military is stretched to the breaking point,” Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) wrote to his colleagues in the House. “Yet, because of the discriminatory policy set up in the 1993 more than 11,000 able-bodied, capable and willing soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women have been kicked out of the military for no other reason than their sexual orientation.” Meehan is attempting to do something about it. Yesterday, he reintroduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill that would allow gays to serve openly in the military. The bill has bipartisan support from more than 100 lawmakers, including Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT). Shays, who appeared with Meehan at a news conference yesterday, called the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy “foolish and cruel.” Activists will make a strong push on Capitol Hill on Lobby Day — March 26, 2007 — to show Congress grassroot support behind the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Learn how you can get more involved in pushing for an end to the policy here, and contact your member of Congress here.

Under the Radar

MILITARY — KILEY’S APPOINTMENT TO HEAD WALTER REED ‘DEMORALIZING’: Yesterday, the Army fired Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who had been on the job just six months. The Army said “it had lost trust and confidence in his leadership in the wake of a scandal over outpatient treatment.” In Weightman’s place, the Army temporarily reappointed Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, despite Kiley’s history of ignoring the veterans’ problems at the hospital. As the former commander of Walter Reed, Kiley knew about the outpatient neglect for several years. Beverly Young, wife of Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), said she complained to Kiley about a soldier who was sleeping in his own urine, but Kiley ignored her and “blamed everyone else.” Even now, “Kiley believes the problems at Walter Reed’s famous building 18 ‘weren’t serious,’ and he has attacked the media’s coverage of the issue as ‘one-sided.'” The Washington Post reports that while Kiley was ignoring Walter Reed’s outpatients, he misled Congress by painting rosy pictures of veterans’ care at the hospital. In 2005, Kiley told a congressional hearing that Building 18 was a “good-news story” and said the Army officials made care at the medical facilities “a top priority.” Kiley even sat in on a congressional hearing in 2005 as one injured veteran called Walter Reed a “dysfunctional system” in which “soldiers go months without pay, nowhere to live, and their medical appointments canceled.” Again, Kiley ignored the issue. Kiley’s appointment is bound to be unpopular among both veterans and employees of Walter Reed. A defense official today said the appointment of Kiley will likely be “demoralizing to the staff at the medical center.”

KATRINA — BUSH VISITS THE FORGOTTEN VICTIMS OF KATRINA:
Yesterday, President Bush visited the Gulf Coast region for the first time in six months. Bush failed to mention Katrina in his 2007 State of the Union address, despite pledging one year earlier that he would “stay at it until they’re back on their feet.” Yesterday, he sought to “fight the perception that those whose lives were devastated by the August 2005 storm had fallen off his agenda,” telling local residents the “federal government still knows you exist.” In Biloxi, MS, Bush acknowledged that “there’s a continued frustration with the slowness of federal response at times.” Eighteen months after the storm hit, approximately 110,000 Katrina victims still live in trailers or receive rental assistance. “More than half of Orleans Parish’s public schools and nearly 70 percent of its child-care centers remain closed while the limited hospital emergency rooms are ‘saturated’ with patients.” Only 17 percent of New Orleans’s public schools have reopened. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Education Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) plan to “unveil legislation that would pour $250 million into the city’s hurricane-ravaged school system over the next five years.” The bill would grant financial incentives to teachers and principals to stay in or move to New Orleans.

TERRORISM — SNOW DOESN’T KNOW IF BIN LADEN IS THE LEADER OF AL QAEDA:
On Sunday, it will have been 2,000 days since the 9/11 terror attacks — 2,000 days that Osama bin Laden has spent on the loose, living in freedom. Yesterday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Tony Snow about new U.S. intelligence showing that bin Laden is in Pakistan actively re-establishing al Qaeda training camps. At first, Snow claimed that this was “an intelligence matter that I’m not going to be able to go into,” despite the fact that the new National Intelligence Director had testified about this topic the day before. He then suggested that bin Laden may now be “marginalized.” A reporter responded, “Isn’t he the leader of al Qaeda?” Snow answered, “Well, I don’t know. It’s a real question about who assumes operational command.” But last month, Vice President Cheney referenced the #3 of al Qaeda “underneath Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri.” In December, Snow himself referred to al Qaeda as “the bin Laden organization.” Moreover, President Bush, Tony Snow, and other White House officials frequently quote bin Laden as proof that al Qaeda considers Iraq “the central battlefield in the war on terror.” Only when the Bush administration is asked to face the truth about the threat that bin Laden poses do they pretend he might be a bit player. Otherwise, the White House is happy to use bin Laden’s propaganda to justify its failing policies.


Think Fast

“The share of female politicians around the world reached a record of high of almost 17 percent in 2006 — up nearly 6 percentage points during the past decade.”

“Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated “not ready” — largely as a result of shortfalls in billions of dollars’ worth of equipment — jeopardizing their capability to respond to crises at home and abroad,” according to a congressional commission’s preliminary report.

56 percent: Number of Americans who believe the federal government has a responsibility to provide health care for all. Eighty-four percent said they support expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover all uninsured children, even though President Bush has proposed cutting funding for the program.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) yesterday said he likely would support legislation by Sen. James Webb (D-VA) “barring a U.S. attack on Iran unless Congress explicitly gave President George W. Bush the green light to do so.” 

“The danger posed by war to all of humanity and to our planet is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday warned in his first address on the issue.

Opium production in Afghanistan “hit record output” last year, rising 25 percent.

Jurors in the Scooter Libby trialexpect to deliberate into next week. They asked U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton for a dictionary and more office supplies and asked to leave early today for the weekend. Walton denied the request for the dictionary but told jurors they could take off at 2 p.m.”

And finally: www.HornballCouncilmembers.com. “A Town Council candidate admitted Wednesday that he owned an Internet pornography site but said it has no bearing on whether he should be elected March 13. ‘It’s registered to me, and I developed the page. … [But] this is a personal issue involving consenting adults. This campaign should be about issues.'”