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Friday, May 30, 2003

"Socially Accepted Bigoty" Doesn't Just Come From the Left!

Tony Adragna
I read Willy Stern's "primer in discrimination against us GOPers", and — 'cept for the fact that I thought his blind date acted particularly stupidly — methinks he protests too much.

I could write the same piece from the perspective of a Democrat, and it would be just as true. You oughta hear the bigoted comments about Democrats — they're all assholes, stupid, anti-American, loony leftists, etc. — that I hear from normally thoughful people — my own housemates at our dinner table.

'Course, in directing their comments at me, stupid & asshole — retarded, even — might not be so far from unfair — I make a point of working their nerves every chance I get. But when making those type of comments about "all Democrats" they're being just as bigoted as the people Stern criticizes.

And I hear those types of comments from both ends of the political spectrum.

It's true, as Stern says, that "many progressive Democrats are intolerant and mean toward those with whom they disagree politically." However, you can swap out "progressive Democrat" for "conservative Republican" and the criticism is just as valid.

The real story hear is about how political partisans irrespective of party tend toward abandoning reason in favor of vitriol.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The Texas D's Were Wrong...
... But the Texas R's May Have Done Worse

Tony Adragna
I've held off commenting on the lengths that the Texas GOP leadership — including one of Texas' representative to the Fedral Legislature — seem to have gone to in attempting to compel the attendance of those "quorum busting" Texas Democrats. I haven't done so for what I consider a good reason — what's alleged is much more serious. I mean, potentially criminal.

Josh Marshall's current column in The Hill is a good round up of his Talking Points Memo coverage on the matter, which I've been following diligently.

In watching the story unfold, I was struck by the fish-smellingness of something Josh linked to the other day. Besides allegations of abuse of power, we get the HoustonChronicle reporting
DPS Lt. William Crais apparently [...] called the Air & Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., and asked for assistance in finding Laney's airplane. The service is a branch of the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Hale said Crais asked for a phone number for the interdiction service and that [Texas Assistant Attorney General Jay] Kimbrough provided it.
Doesn't sound right to me, nor did it sound right to the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose spokeswoman — the same one who made the earlier comment — is today reported by HoustonChronicle to have
said Wednesday that she was quoted incorrectly in Wednesday's Chronicle as confirming that the assistant attorney general, Jay Kimbrough, provided the phone number at the request of DPS Lt. William Crais.

The spokeswoman, Angela Hale, said Kimbrough would have provided the number if he was asked, but that she does not know if he did.
Oh, that clears everything up... NOT!

Mr. Kimbrough isn't just some government lawyer who counsels other branches of government — his place on the Texas OAG's organizational chart[pdf] is as head of the "Criminal Division". And Kimbrough's portofolio includes being the state's go-to guy on Homeland Security, which is obviously why he's got a "Special Advisor" who works for him on that issue.

To wit: Mr. Kimbrough ought know — I assert that he does know — that using the Dept of Homeland Security in the way that happened here is not just improper, but probably criminal. If he knew that DPS was going to bring in the Feds, he should've advised against it.

But, Kimbrough says — or, a spokesman from the AG's office says — that rather than counselling his client to not break the law, he would've just handed over the number and walked away [there's a legal term for that — it's called "willful blindness"]

Something is definitely very wrong here — probably even criminally wrong .

Mr. Smith Goes to the Council on Foreign Relations

Tony Adragna
Richard Cohen takes the Pentagon — its civilian leadership, actually — to task over failures to secure Iraqi WMD related sites. I agree with Cohen insofar as there's at least one glaring example: What happened at Al Tuwaitha.

But, I want to draw attention to two grafs that are out of place in Cohen's piece
It was because of these purported weapons of mass destruction that the United States, at the head of a grand coalition of the willing, went to war in the first place. This was the case Colin Powell presented to the United Nations and the one President Bush made to the American people. Sure, Saddam Hussein was evil -- but it was his weapons that made him dangerous.

So where are these weapons? Rumsfeld was asked that question after he spoke here to the Council on Foreign Relations. He said they might have been destroyed in advance of the war. He was then asked how it was possible that the hapless Iraqi army, so inept in everything it did, was able to destroy all its chemical or biological weapons so that not a trace could be found -- and the United States never noticed. Rumsfeld ducked the question. Iraq is a big country, he said. As large as California, he said. Blah, blah.
Why is this "out of place"? Well, because the Q&A that Cohen references isn't about the operational mistakes on the ground in Iraq. Rather, the questioner intimated that the administration's case against Iraq was fatally flawed — I know this because I watched the exchange between Sec. Rumsfeld & Hedrick Smith
Hedrick Smith, PBS. I want to go back to the point you made at the beginning in answering the first question about lessons learned in the Pentagon. I wonder what information or intelligence you and the military commanders had that caused you to give the orders for tens of thousands of American troops to suit up for chemical and biological warfare? Presumably, it meant that there were those kinds of weapons in the hands of Iraqi troops, units. Republican Guard or whatnot. What happened? Where was the information and what have you found out about what went wrong there?

Donald Rumsfeld: Well, we had information that ... we had facts. We know the Iraqis used chemical weapons against the Iranians. We had facts. We know they used chemical weapons against their own population and killed thousands. Tens of thousands with chemical weapons. So we knew we had a leader that was perfectly willing to use chemical weapons against people. Second, we had intelligence, information, people chatting with each other about "Don't mention these words. Don't say that."

And that type of thing indicating that the best information ... we knew they had chemical programs from the past. And we knew they were talking about these programs in one way or another. I shouldn't say the programs. They were talking about aspects of it and cautioning people not to say things. We know that they had learned to live in an inspections environment that the U.N. had over them. And they'd gotten very good in living in an inspections environment. Now what happened? Why weren't they used? I don't know. There are several possible reasons for that. And we may end up finding out precisely. We're now interrogating. I think we've picked up about half of the people in the top 55 in that deck of cards. I think we have 26 of them out of 55. And then we have a good number in the next traunche that goes up to about 200. And we're doing the interrogations, the agencies are doing multi-agency interrogations. We may actually find out what happened.

One piece of speculation as to what might have happened is the fact that the, we had no strategic surprise. General Franks did manage to get, we believe, tactical surprise and he got it by starting the conflict not with a long multi-week air war that destroyed the infrastructure and had the risk of killing innocent men, women and children, but he started with a ground war. Second, he went in with a very brief air ware that was very precise, had minimal collateral damage, we believe, and he preceded the ground war with a number of special operators moving in and seizing key areas.

Now if the speed and the way that plan was executed surprised them, it may very well be that they didn't have time to blow the dams, or use chemical weapons. It is also possible that they decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict. I don't know the answer. And I suspect we'll find out a lot more ...

Hedrick Smith: ... they performed so badly but they...every single one of those weapons?

Donald Rumsfeld: What makes you think they've destroyed every single one?

Hedrick Smith: Because they weren't there. They weren't found with the unit.

Donald Rumsfeld: Well ...

Hedrick Smith: If they weren't found with the units, and you say that they might have destroyed them, for us not to have found a single one of them would mean that they destroyed every one of them and yet they performed terribly in the field.

Donald Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, you say we haven't found them. It's a country the size of California. It is not as though we've managed to look everyplace. There are hundreds and hundreds of suspect chemical or biological or nuclear sites that have not been investigated as yet. It'll take time. We had a good ...

Hedrick Smith: Why?

Donald Rumsfeld: ... pardon me?

Hedrick Smith: Why?

Donald Rumsfeld: Why? Because we've only been there seven weeks.

Hedrick Smith: (Inaudible)

Donald Rumsfeld: My goodness gracious, sir. (Laughter) My goodness gracious. The teams of people are out investigating site after site after site. And they have found these two mobile, biological laboratories, which the agencies assess to be just that, biological weapons laboratories. They're still doing investigations and checking them out, but at the moment, that's the current evaluation of the investigators.

We do know that they bury things. They bury things all over the country. They've buried airplanes. They've buried tanks. They've buried weapons. We also know that if you go back to Mr. Blix, and the U.N. inspections, that back in the mid-90s, I believe it was, and there is somebody here who may be an expert on this, and they can calibrate me, but Mr. Blix was very close, I'm told, to announcing that the Iraqis had no nuclear program. And someone on his team advised him that maybe he might not want to do that right then, because take a little more time, take a little more time. Well, six months later, they ended up finding that the Iraqis did in fact have a nuclear program. This was years after the '91 war and years after the inspectors had been in there looking around.

They advised them not to do that. They then found the nuclear program. And it turned out that they were much further advanced in their nuclear program than anyone had speculated or surmised, or assessed in the intelligence community's language. Now, how could that be? Well, it could be because it's hard to find things in a country that's determined not to have you find them. And we'll just take our time and we'll go about that business. And my guess is that the kinds of things that the intelligence community provided Secretary Powell and Secretary Powell provided the United Nations will, in fact, be turned up to the extent that they're still there.
Rumsfeld never "ducked the question" of operational failures, because Smith never spoke that question. Smith's ulterior point is that the administration can't be believed.

Cohen, on the other hand, maintains that the administration ought be believed
Now elements of the Bush administration, particularly within the Pentagon, are rattling their sabers in the direction of Iran, making some of the same arguments they made about Iraq: links to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, etc. Given what has happened in Iraq, should they be believed?

The answer is yes.
[emphasis added]
Cohen's complaint is that "Hunky-dory Don will never admit that mistakes have been made in Iraq." Smith's complaint seems to be that the entire operation in Iraq was a fraud. In fairness to Sec. Rumsfeld, Cohen should have noted the difference, rather than simply referencing the Q&A as if it was making the same point as his column.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

“The best way to describe it is it was a non-event. The world didn’t come to an end. People just went about their business.”

Tony Adragna
It is time again, unfortunately, for me to address the issue of the ban on gays in the military.

I say "unfortunately" because this topic should be by now a non-issue. But, despite evidence to the contray, and no evidence supporting the position that gays per se are detrimental to good order & discipline, the ban continues. Why?

My own opinion is that the service chiefs' opposition is based mostly on what I've noted as "conduct problems related to this issue involv[ing] harrassment, even murder, of servicemembers who are often merely percieved to be gay." That's the only rational basis for continuing the ban at this point. But, let's get to some evidence, and my titular quote
When the British lifted their ban in January 2000, the government conducted a study that concluded that the presence of openly gay and lesbian service members did not have a negative impact on the military.

“Basically, it’s all still going fine,” said Simon Langley, press and media officer for the London-based Armed Forces Lesbian & Gay Association, an advocacy group for gay service members in Britain.

“There’s been a few problems, but nothing more than issues that arise when people come out at their place of work,” Langley said.

“The best way to describe it,” he said, in discussing Britain’s lifting of its ban on gays in the military, “is it was a non-event. The world didn’t come to an end. People just went about their business.”[emphasis added]
I think the highlighted text there is the most relevant, because it's not all the in your face protests that have brought acceptance for gays. Rather, it's the familiarity with people who are openly gay in the workplace & society at large that has changed peoples attitudes about gays. It's the recognition that, while there are whackos among us, they're no more whacko than whackos in general, and most of us are actually — 'cept for the sexual preference bit — no different than straight folk.

Why can't that work for the military? No reason, and my own anecdotal evidence — it's first had experience — is of general acceptance of openly gay servicemembers, so long as the servicemember conducts himself professionally. But, I don't have to rely just on my anecdotal evidence anymore, because the experience of CPO Rob Nunn[NYT Feb, 01] of the Royal Navy
[...] seems to be the rule rather than the exception in Britain's newly inclusive military. Even the Defense Ministry, which fought hard to keep gays out, has acknowledged an unexpectedly smooth transition. In a report last fall, it said there had been "widespread acceptance of the new policy" and "no reported difficulties of note concerning homophobic behavior" among service personnel
One of CPO Nunn's shipmates said it best, "We thought Bob would be a catalyst for trouble and discord. But since I met Bob, my whole outlook's changed. He's just a bloke like the rest of us." Exactly the way I was treated by my shipmates.

So, what's different about the Royal Navy that let them get the job done? Nothing — 'cept that political leadership told 'em to do it, and the Admirals did it. What's stopping the U.S. from lifting its ban is lack of leadership — there's not all that much opposition in the ranks, but neither the military leadership nor the political leadership wants to confront what is truly a minority motivated by animus.

The solution to the military's conduct problem is to deal with misconduct — fraternization irrespective orientation, and harrassment for whatever reason — rather than discharging gays on the presumption that simply being openly gay is bad for the military notwithstanding evidence to the contrary.

BTW, "Northwestern University Professor Charles Moskos, the primary author of the current U.S. ["Don Ask, Don't Tell"] policy on gay and lesbian soldiers, said this week[Jan 3, 2003]
that he supports allowing known gays to serve in the military if the nation reinstitutes the draft. Moskos, an influential military sociologist who has been widely consulted by policy-makers on military personnel issues, offered his remarks two days ago to researchers at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM), an official research unit of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"If an open gay said, 'I want to go into the army,' it would be his prerogative," Moskos said. "Of course, there would be problems with that, there would be hassles, but they probably could be overcome." Moskos, who has been criticized by colleagues and civil rights advocates for his defense of the military's anti-gay policy, acknowledged that his support for drafting gays might appear to undermine the rationale for banning openly gay soldiers. But he said the draft was a "higher virtue" than the privacy rights of straight soldiers, which he has frequently cited in his opposition to letting gays serve openly with straights. He added that instituting the draft would require ending all forms of the gay ban. "You can't use a gay ban with a draft because that would make it too easy for people to get out," he said.
Actually, the "problems" & "hassels" wouldn't "probably" be worked out in any way more satisfactory to die hard opponents of gays in the military simply because it would be forced upon them by the necessity concomitant with a draft. If the problems can be workd out under a draft, then why not in the all volunteer service?

Oh, because the draft would be a "higher virtue"? But, what "privacy rights of straight soldiers" are being protected simply by telling gays "you can't serve openly, but you can serve", which is what "Dont Ask, Don't Tell" is all about?

See, I'm gay, and I served in the US Navy, and I showered daily in a room full of naked shipmates — swinging dicks & all — and slept with them in cramped berthing compartments — what privacy? Yet, their "privacy rights" were protected because none of them knew I was gay! [WINK] This is the most unserious of reasoning — it's illogic!

And the current policy already makes it "too easy for people to get out" simply by averring that they're gay regardless of whether or not they are in fact gay — indeed, the military is all too happy to speed you on your merry way.

But, here's tonights real kicker! Remember those linguists who have been discharged for being gay? Well, you know, the government ends up turning to civilian contractors, or simply re-hiring the ex-servicemembers as civilian employees to fill the void
Cathleen Glover, an Arabic linguist who trained for two years at the Defense Language Institute and was dismissed in March 2003 said she was offered jobs by the military after she was honorably discharged. She declined the offers, which would have allowed her to serve in every capacity but deny her a rank in the military.

“It is very ironic that in many cases the military ends up hiring the same people they discharged only weeks or months ago,” said Steve Ralls, SLDN’s communications director. “I know there have been several SLDN clients who obtained positions in the civilian sector but I don’t know the total numbers.”

Ralls added that it is more expensive to discharge members and replace them with civilian contractors.

“It’s a case of the military shooting itself in the foot,” Ralls said. “Civilian contractors tend to have much higher salaries than enlisted personnel.”

It is not uncommon for gay service members to receive civilian job offers from the government following their discharge from the military.
Can we say totally irrational?...