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Ruth Marcus: Don't Ask

Ruth Marcus, of the Washington Post Writers Group, blogs on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" :

 Boy, you could see that one coming. It was a pivotal moment earlier this month when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Pivotal, but not enough. I don't spend a lot of time chatting up military officers, but enough to know that, just below the top-most ranks, there remains an enormous, if incomprehensible, amount of squeamishness about letting gay men and women serve openly in the military.
So it was disappointing but not surprising to see the chiefs of the Army and Air Force on Tuesday urging Congress to go slow on any change. "I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that is fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness."
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Casey's Air Force counterpart, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, expressed his "strong conviction" that "this is not the time to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation."
Perturb the force? Of course, the same arguments could be -- in fact, they were -- made about racial integration. It is particularly infuriating that the generals would invoke the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an excuse for not lifting the ban. If anything, "don't ask, don't tell" has been an impediment to the military during these operations. In an era of stop-loss recalls because forces have been stretched so thin, thousands of service members have been discharged because of their sexuality. According to some estimates, about 13,500 personnel have been kicked out since the policy was implemented during the Clinton administration. Nearly 800 of them had "critical skills." More than 60 were Arabic speakers. As former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili wrote in a 2007 New York Times op-ed, "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."
Do Casey and Schwartz really have so little faith in their troops that they think serving with people they probably already know are gay will impede their performance? Do they think U.S. personnel are less capable of adapting to this change than those in the 25 countries cited by the University of California's Palm Center -- including Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Israel, Argentina, Australia and South Africa -- that allow gays to serve openly?
In the military, as elsewhere, this is, thankfully, a generational issue. Casey is 61, Schwartz just a few years younger. Younger officers, I suspect, are not much different from younger people outside the military: more comfortable with gay colleagues and friends. In the meantime, though, President Obama and congressional supporters of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" can't let the generals intimidate them out of lifting the ban, or at the very least putting a moratorium on its enforcement. The scare-mongering worked 17 years ago. It's even less convincing today.

A New Dawn

So this is the Iraq War, Part II.  Washington Post Writers Group columnist Ruth Marcus offers these blog thoughts:

Do they have a Ministry of Silly Names at the Defense Department? The war in Iraq will get a new name as of Sept. 1, when troop levels are to be reduced to 50,000. Operation Iraqi Freedom will be Operation New Dawn. This is unsettling on several levels.
First, the new name bears an unfortunate resemblance to a commercial for dishwashing liquid or a vampire novel series. Second, they don't have anything better to do with their time at the Pentagon? Third, Iraqi Freedom had admirable precision. New Dawn, by contrast, is disturbingly hazy. Dawn of what, exactly?
"Aligning the name change with the change of mission sends a strong signal that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission," Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes in a masterpiece of bureaucratic obscurantism approving the name change.
What was wrong with freedom?

More tea, sympathy -- and hostility -- for Sarah Palin

   As a follow to Sunday's blog entry My date with Sarah Palin:

- Fear Palin, a warrior messiah on a mission - Andrew Sullivan/The Times [of London]
  I have to say I fear her. Or, rather, I fear a country that has allowed such a person to come so close to Palin power and to dominate its discourse quite so powerfully. It is a sign that all is not well. And the world needs an America which is more stable and more calm than the one Palin represents.

- Palin’s Cunning Sleight of Hand  - Frank Rich/The New York Times
   This G.O.P. populism is all bunk, of course. Republicans in office now, as well as Palin during her furtive public service in Alaska, have feasted on federal pork, catered to special interests, and pursued policies indifferent to recession-battered Americans. And yet they’re getting away with their populist masquerade — not just with a considerable swath of voters but even with certain elements in the “liberal media.”
-  Sarah Palin displays her pitch-perfect populism - David Broder/The Washington Post
   Her invocation of "conservative principles and common-sense solutions" was perfectly conventional. What stood out in the eyes of TV-watching pols of both parties was the skill with which she drew a self-portrait that fit not just the wishes of the immediate audience but the mood of a significant slice of the broader electorate.
    But not:
- Unafraid of pundit Sarah Palin - Clarence Page/Chicago Tribune/Buffalo News
  Conservative Sarah Palin fans ask me why “the liberal media” are “so afraid” of the former Alaska governor. I, for one, am unafraid. Quite the opposite. As an unrepentant pundit, I am delighted that the former Republican vice presidential candidate refuses to rule out running for the presidency. I am also relieved that, so far, she does not appear to have a ghost’s chance of actually winning.
- Sarah Palin should beware of exploiting her youngest child - Kathleen Parker/The Washington Post
   Palin's defense of people with special needs is commendable. Her obvious love for -- and pride in -- her Down syndrome child, Trig, is touching. But each time she sallies forth as Mama Bear to America's special-needs citizenry, invoking Trig's name amid demands for her children's privacy, a bit of uneasiness slithers between text and subtext.
    At what point do Palin's noble intentions become Trig's exploitation?

   Still hungry?
   Check out the great opinion round-up site The Atlantic Wire, which has these logs of punditry on Tea Parties and Palin.

   And, if all that's too heavy, there's always this:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

My date with Sarah Palin

   A posse of coffee-drinking buddies from my Kansas days were initially depressed when the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce announced that none other than Sarah Palin was to be the speaker for the chamber's annual do at the city's Bicentennial Center arena.

   Another conservative Republican, they sighed.

   Hey, I know, one of them said, let's put on a show of our own. Let's call it Reality Not Celebrity. And let's Meandjack invite, oh, I don't know, some wordy progressive guy like George Pyle to come back and give the keynote.

   So I did.

   The organizers -- or, as they came to be known, the instigators --  quickly sold out the downtown restaurant dining room they'd booked. So we wound up at, of all places, The Salina Country Club.

   I love irony.

   A sampling of the speech was in today's Buffalo News Viewpoints section.

   The full text of my talk is here. [UPDATE: Audio stream added.]

   Salina Journal coverage is here and, oh, yeah, here.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News
[Photo by Tom Dorsey/The Salina Journal]

Debt and unemployment

Saturday's editorial page mentions two depressing Web sites, one of which shows the mounting national debt while the other offers a short video adaptation of spreading unemployment in the United States. So if the editorial comment alone doesn't ruin your day, and you don't feel like a lot of typing, here are clickable links to both.
Debt clock 

The picture to the right, by the way, is of the national debt clock display in New York City. Two years ago it ran out of digits to express the trillions now involved, so its programmers had to remove the electronic dollar sign to make room for another number, and paint a dollar sign at the edge. Not a good thing.

Meantime, a Web version of the national debt clock -- along with interest costs, population and other figures, is here.

And the unemployment video, which appears to be a student multimedia course final by Latoya Egwuekwe, is here.


Bridging another gap

   Does this look familiar?


Getting an accurate census count

Western New York: stand up and be counted!

The decennial census counters are coming to a city, town, or village near you -- well, actually, they're coming to yours -- and the importance of an accurate measure cannot be stressed enough.  As today's editorial states, the numbers reported make a difference in the allocation of federal funding and representation in the House of Representatives. Another factor to weigh: the redrawing of political boundaries for the State Legislature by the winners of November's elections. Census

At stake is $400 billion in federal funds provided each year to state and local governments and how that money gets filtered to the local level.  Lack of congressional representation touches on weighty issues such as federal aid to transportation infrastructure and cleanups of industrial-legacy environmental hazards, or tprotection of Great Lakes water resources.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown recently announced the formation of a "Buffalo Complete Count Committee" to target parts of the city and various demographic groups.  There's a concentrated effort both here and around the country to impress upon immigrant and minority groups the critical need for an accurate census that ultimately brings in more dollars for services.  Buffalo gets more than $20 million just in federal community development block grant funds.

Consider the money out of everyone's pockets for higher taxes with less represenatation at the congressional level.  Or, how about this: it's the law.

Dawn Marie Bracely/Editorial Writer