World affairs

The land of the free, unless you’re gay

Lt. Dan Choi

The last week or so I’ve seen quite a bit of activity on Twitter about him; most being requests to electronically sign either a petition to the Army or a letter addressed to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on Choi’s behalf.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, check out this link for Courage Campaign. In essence, the story is this: Lt. Choi, a West Point graduate and decorated Army veteran, is being discharged for violating the “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” Policy.

You see, Choi, during an interview on the Rachel Maddow show March 19th, admitted to being gay and a few weeks later received a letter informing him he would be dismissed from the Army in accordance with DADT. Both the letter and petition circulating on Twitter and the Web urge the repeal of that policy as well as a request to allow Lt. Choi to continue his service.

I agree with half of it.

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Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

For those of you that don’t know, once upon a time I served in the Marine Corps. Four years of active duty, stationed from California to Japan, and during my tour I received quite a few commendations, medals, and other nice bits of this and that that let me know I didn’t suck when it came to being a Marine.

So there’s that.

And during that time, I can tell you with absolute certainty I served with quite a few gay men and women. They were, all of them, good people who served their country proudly and passionately and in my experience their sexuality hindered their ability to serve, perform, or lead not in the slightest.

That the guy to my left had a boyfriend mattered absolutely zip in his ability to set a perimeter, navigate through unfamiliar territory, or apply the three or so pounds of pressure it takes to fire an M-16, is what I’m saying.   

So there’s also that.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was crap from inception – an olive branch to Gay America that the Right could live with – but it really didn’t change much in regard to how the military operated from day to day. Before the policy, gay men and women would simply lie if they were asked. Now they just weren’t asked.

But either period would see a discharge if the truth came to light, and in addition to the immediate aftermath of frustration, humiliation, or depression, your discharge status is something that follows you the rest of your life.

In short, DADT isn’t just, doesn’t work, and ignores the fundamental problems with DOD policy. But it was, I think, a first step in the right direction. And in my humble opinion, it’s time to take the next. 

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The Good Lieutenant

Lt. Choi is a different matter entirely. While his discharge is a tragedy – this is a guy who’s an Iraq War Vet, a West Point graduate, and an Arabic translator (which we clearly need all we can get) – I have to say I think he must still be discharged.

You see, Lt. Choi is a man who accepted his commission, honorably served his country, and then publically came-out on television – but did each well aware of the military’s policy regarding gay men and women in uniform as well as the ramifications of breaking that policy.

In other words, he knew the rules, broke them, and is now crying foul. And while I appreciate and respect his desire to serve, a well-ordered military doesn’t operate that way. A well-ordered anything doesn’t work that way.

A far better approach, I think, is for Lt. Choi to work diligently to repeal DADT and then petition for reinstatement if and when the policy has changed. He, and the countless other Marines, soldiers, Airman, and Sailors who have been discharged under the policy, could then have the opportunity to serve again when they’re most needed.

And needed they are. As of this week, 4,308 United States military personnel have died in Iraq and 710 have died in Afghanistan. And I’d bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in yours that there’s more than a few gay men and women in those two lists.

Thoughts?

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What do AIG and Darfur have in common?

Efforts to save them might be misguided…

Most weekdays I spend my drive to and from work listening to NPR. I’ve written about it before, but I can’t say it enough – I loves me some NPR. The exceptions are those times when the state of things, for whatever reason, is just a bit too much; when every story seems to do little more than make me sad, tired, or frustrated.

Those times I think, I swear to God, if I have to listen to any more political bickering or depressing world affairs I’m just going to turn around, go back home, and crawl into bed until Friday. Then take a vacation day and crack open a cold one* to celebrate a three day weekend. That’ll teach ’em.

As you can imagine, that doesn’t happen too often.

A program a couple of weeks ago featured a story about Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (the same gent who has an arrest warrant for him issued by the International Criminal Court, by the bye). Because this post has taken far longer to write than I anticipated, you’ve probably heard about it by now. But, on the off-chance you haven’t, the skinny is this: Sudan’s president has directed all foreign aid groups leave the country within one year. This mandate comes not long after the government had the good sense to kick out about two dozen other groups.

According to President al-Bashir, the goal of removing international aid is to “Sudanese” relief efforts. What that means is anyone’s guess, but given this guy’s history I have trouble seeing that as anything close to a good thing for the population.

But he’s a tyrant. And as a concept, murdering, bloodthirsty tyrants wanting absolute control isn’t all that surprising, right? It was the next story, and concept underneath, that really got my wheels turning.

Economist Dambisa Moyo recently released a book called Dead Aid. It posits that assistance, both monetary and general humanitarian efforts, has actually hurt Africa. Think about that – that’s 23 billion dollars in federal aid from the US (available 2006 numbers) – that she believes has done more harm than good.

Far better, she says, is the type of aid China provides – investments in the economy in the form of factories and other businesses that lead to jobs, new sources of tax income for the state, and the general economic growth that not only builds a community’s economy but also its sense of self-worth.

Click here for a review of her book by Paul Collier.

While researching this post I came across the quote below from another gent in an article from the Washington Post. The article is a few years old, but his point of view is interesting and worth the read if you have a few minutes.

“There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened …because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.”

So I have to wonder: are they right? Has assistance from the West hindered growth, innovation, and self-reliance in Africa? The (very, very small) conservative part of me appreciates the logic. Arguments have been made asserting blank checks can discourage entrepreneurship, make the government unaccountable, and foster an environment rich with the potential for corruption. And there’s clearly some truth to those ideas.

But the majority of my mind and heart say it’s hard for a society to open small businesses when their children are dying from horrifying, pandemic illnesses. You know, like a cold. And how does a government that can’t seem to provide something as basic as a clean water supply hope to change the tide? “Sudanese efforts,” indeed.

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Now apply that thinking to our own economic issues. Is a blank check, read DART, a help or a hindrance to AIG, Fanny Mae, and the rest of their ilk? Two weeks ago purse strings were still pulled tight and the dial that measured bank lending hadn’t seen a twitch in the needle. In fact, small businesses with years of impeccable credit history have been unable to secure loans they’ve received, year after year, critical to operations. And because of that lack of capital they’ve now shut their doors. Add to that many bank’s hesitance to sell off “toxic” loans because they’re not being offered the price they now think those loans are worth and I’m having quite a few WTF moments.

But I’m not an economist. I thank the Maker I’m married to a woman far, far smarter than I am every time I envision helping Ellie with her algebra. But I am a taxpayer. And it’s my money, and yours, that’s seemingly been hurled into the ether from Washington the last six months and all I know for certain is that while I’m lucky and grateful to have a job that I love, unemployment rate at as of April 3rd is 8.5%.

So, is Ms Moyo right? Is the blank check we’ve written to the banking system, Wall Street (and Detroit, for that matter) part of the problem? And, if so, what’s the better plan? Let me know what you think…

*Full disclosure – because I’m a girly-man and don’t drink beer, a “cold one” is actually a Smirnoff Ice. Don’t laugh – they’re yummy.

photo by Amagil

Another reason I just don’t understand some Republicans

Okay, so the election is over, my guys won, and I’m floating in a sea of political bliss. But.

We’ve now arrived at the time when I, you, and anyone else even marginally invested in the process need to become ardent critics of the Obama administration. I say “critic” and mean not that it’s time to moan, complain, and ridiculously pick and jab. Rather, it’s time to rationally and intelligently question decisions, search for verification and truth, and to hold our President accountable for promises made over the course of this insanely long campaign. In  other words, all the things President Bush calls us unpatriotic for doing.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to doing so. Mostly because I think, I hope, that he’ll do the right thing. That he won’t be dishonest. He won’t consider might the keystone of leadership. He’ll hold true to the beliefs and ideals that inspired so many of us. In a word, that he, through policy, leadership, and thoughtfulness, continues to give the country hope.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post. Driving home yesterday, on the back window of a large SUV directly in front of me, I saw the following sticker:

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Fair enough – nothing weird or out of the ordinary wanting to support your candidate. But in large bold letters directly below it, another sticker read the following:

“HOPE” DOESN’T HAVE THE POWER TO DO ANYTHING

So I ask this (Republicans, please chime in and help me here): political ideology aside, just what the hell kind of person actually believes that?

Not sure if I’m hoping for Captain Jack or the Dread Pirate Roberts

If you haven’t heard, this weekend a group of Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi oil tanker holding close to 2 million barrels of oil and 25 crewmembers. While the Saudis are still working on a solution to get their crew home safe, their Forreign Miinister Prince had this to say:

“Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday called the hijacking “an outrageous act” and said, “piracy, like terrorism, is a disease which is against everybody, and everybody must address it together.” Speaking during a visit to Athens, he did not elaborate on what steps, if any, the kingdom would take to better protect its vital oil tankers.”

My question is this: how many of the pilots on 9/11 were Saudi? Answer: 15 out of 19.