Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't Care

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is currently the byword of US military personnel policy, and yet something about it smack of a lie; something to be hidden or only whispered about. Perhaps it’s just me (which I wouldn’t doubt in the least), but I can’t understand all the fuss. I served in the US military during the later years of the Cold War, following America’s first military defeat in the jungles and swamps of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (our defeat was, I want to remind our readers, the result of inept American politicians and politicalized US generals and not the rank and file Solders, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. They were and remain the best and bravest).

During my tour of duty, there was two fast ways to a General Discharge (as opposed to an honorable one). One was to publicly announce that you hated officers and the other was to be gay. I knew two Navy Corpsmen who were gay while I was stationed at NS Treasure Island in San Francisco in the 1970’s. In checking out their personnel records, I discovered that both were on their third enlistments. Both had volunteered to serve with Marines in Vietnam. Both had outstanding evaluations. Both were excellent at what they did and had the ribbons and citations to prove it. Had I “ratted them out”, both these outstanding sailors would have literally been given a General Discharge and would been out of Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club within 24 hours.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I’m 100% hetro. I didn’t even like playing with the same toys growing up! The issue was what to do? Well, I did nothing, and why should I? Both men were outstanding sailors. Besides, I personally didn’t care what anyone’s sexual orientation was then or now. Who you’re attracted to is, frankly, none of either my business or for that matter, society’s. Now, if either of these gentlemen had deviated one iota from what was expected of them as either sailors or Corpsmen, you bet your “Dixie cup” I would have taken whatever steps were necessary to have them removed from this man’s Navy; not because they were gay, but because they weren’t doing their jobs and that could get people hurt or killed.

It has been my experience that today’s youth doesn’t see someone’s sexual preferences as an issue. The overwhelming majority of those who would be military age either know of or are friends with individuals who are gay, bisexual, lesbian, or even transgendered. To them, it’s no big deal. So, if they are the ones who are actually serving and they aren’t bothered by it, why should the military “Brass” and politicians? I liken it to women serving onboard Naval ships. At first, everyone was complaining about how they would “be in the way” or “be a distraction” and result in injuries, pregnancies, or cause disciplinary actions. But you know what? Not much happened after all, and nowadays, not many even notice.

In doing some further research on the subject, I found that 72% of those surveyed either didn’t care or supported gays openly serving in the military. Twenty three other militaries in the world allow gays to openly serve in their militaries. Of the key group, those who were between 18 and 34 years of age, 73% favored gays being allowed to serve while 23% favored Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (the remaining 4% felt that gays shouldn’t serve at all). Augmenting this, 83% said they had gay friends.

When it came to politically ideology, there really weren’t any surprises. 46% of Conservatives supported the current Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, with 14% saying that gays shouldn’t be allowed to serve at all. Only 41% felt that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Moderates, regardless of party registration, favored allowing gays to openly serve by 66% to 30% against with the difference not wanting gays in the military at all. Naturally, Liberals were the most open to allowing gays in the service with 86% approving. When it came to gender, women were more open than men were by 79% to 68%.

Lastly, when former military personnel were asked about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, 57% of those who were enlisted favored doing away with DADT compared with 54% of officers who agree. Interestingly, 74% of those who never served supported gays openly serving.

I really don’t care and don’t really need to know about someone else’s preference, be it in the military, school, or in the business world. The bottom line regarding our Armed Forces is, at least to me, that we should be more concerned about the quality of our military and not about their sexual orientation. Our emphasis should be on the emotional stability, education, and training of our military personnel as individuals, not who they are attracted to. It’s performance not preference.

As I put the final touches on this article, I read where Don’t Ask Don’t tell has been repelled by the US Senate by a vote of 65 to 31. 8 Republicans joined with 57 Democrats to overturn the current law which came into effect under President Bill Clinton in 1993. An estimated 14,000 servicemen and women have been discharged since the law’s passage. But don’t look for the any changes soon. The president, Congress and Joint Chiefs of Staff have to certify that the change will not negatively impact any of the military branches. Then the Pentagon has 60 days to create a program for the changes to be implemented. In total, we’re looking at 6 to 9 months at least. You just gotta love bureaucracy.

For further information, please visit: ( and

Playing Roulette With the Country's Future
By Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson,
Authors of Where Does the Money Go? Rev Ed: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis

A new and updated version is due out in January. Find out more at
There's something about playing roulette that makes everyone feel a little like the uber suave James Bond. You can picture the actor of your choice (we're not doctrinaire here), but they all make gambling seem glamorous. Not knowing exactly what will happen adds an agreeable tension to the drama. A clever screenwriter has labored long and hard to insure a satisfying outcome. Casablanca makes roulette alluring too. Remember when Rick steps in to fix the results so a dewy-eyed ingénue and her husband win enough money to escape the Nazis? It's one of the best scenes in the movie.

The problem is that things don't always work out so nicely in real life - - and rarely does anyone step in to fix a game of roulette in your favor. That's why it's so disturbing to see the country's leaders playing roulette with the country's economic future by procrastinating on tackling our massive debt and budget problems.

Basically, they're betting that the government can continue to spend more than it takes in, because people around the world will be glad to keep lending to us by buying our Treasury bonds. In the short term, it's not a bad bet. Given the world's shaky economy, the U.S. government is still a better investment than most.

And in the long run? As David Brooks so succinctly puts in, "The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts . . . the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain." 1 FDIC chair Sheila Blair, who certainly knows a thing or two about what happens when investors lose confidence, warns of danger too: "Financial markets are already sending disquieting signals," she recently wrote.

It's no secret that the most bipartisan position in Washington has been the determination of both parties to live beyond our means for decades. And outside of government, public frustration is high, but realism remains low.

On the right, the Tea Partiers furiously demand that government get dramatically smaller, slashing spending by huge amounts to balance the budget now. Some even argue that Congress should slam the brakes on borrowing overnight, by refusing to raise the government's debt ceiling. The Tea Partiers rage against the machine, but seem unprepared for any frank discussion of how the federal government really spends its money, or the human consequences of its ideas.

But even if the Tea Party's champions in Congress could get their agenda through - - and governing is considerably balkier than complaining and criticizing -- such a sudden lurch into smaller government would be wrenching. And refusing to raise the debt ceiling could be disastrous. Tens of thousands of federal and state workers would lose their jobs in the middle of the Great Recession. Schools and colleges around the country would face massive cutbacks. The global bond markets, already nervous about the debt crisis in Europe, might start dumping U.S. bonds as well. The right likes to slam big government entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, but there are millions of human beings depending on them. You don't make major changes in these programs overnight.

The situation on the left is as just as bad. Despite careful, non-partisan assessments from multiple analysts inside and outside government detailing Social Security's shaky future funding, there is a profoundly disingenuous mantra coming from some progressives: "Don't worry. Don't touch it. There's no serious problem. The Trust Fund is good until 2037."

Yes, but Trust Fund is filled with government bonds, and Social Security will start drawing on the bonds in about five years. Those bonds guarantee that Social Security benefits are first in line when the government pays its bills - - people will get their checks. But that money has to come from somewhere, and the government's own auditors say the only way to do that is by raising taxes, cutting other spending, or borrowing from someplace else. In other words, something else in the budget has to give.

Do progressives really believe the country will suddenly be flush enough to cover Social Security and still pay for all the other spending these very same progressives want? And by claiming there's no problem, they undercut public backing for the ideas they do support, like raising the income cap on Social Security taxes. Why would people want to raise Social Security taxes on anyone if there's no problem?

There's a reasonable discussion about how quickly to move to bring the country's spending in line with its revenues given how weak the U.S. economy is. Huge, abrupt program cuts, big sudden tax hikes, pulling the plug on infrastructure and educational spending that is crucial to having a competitive economy down the road - - these are all risky, both economically and socially. Boring old long-term planning and gradualism are probably the only sensible ways out. But there is no time to delay on starting a reality-based discussion.

A recent Public Agenda survey of Washington insiders - - people whose careers revolve around the federal government - - showed that a whopping 8 in 10 agreed that the only way to solve the country's federal budget problem is to combine spending cuts and tax increases. Why don't these people step up to the plate and say something? Largely, they're silent. Meanwhile, we have profiles in cowardice in Congress and relentless volleys of self-serving spin coming from both the left and the right.

The trouble with roulette is that the house nearly always wins, and players who don't know when to quit lose their shirts. What American needs now is leadership that understands when it's time to leave the roulette table and leave the gambling to others.

1 The New York Times
2 The Washington Post
© 2010 Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, authors of Where Does the Money Go? Rev Ed: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis.

Author Bios
Scott Bittle, author of Where Does the Money Go? Rev Ed: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis, is the Director of Public Issues Analysis at Public Agenda and is executive editor of, where he has prepared citizen guides on more than twenty major issues including the federal budget deficit, Social Security, and the economy. He is also the website director for Planet Forward, an innovative PBS program designed to bring citizen voices to the energy debate.

Jean Johnson, co-author of Where Does the Money Go? Rev Ed: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis, is the Director of Education Insights and Director of Programs at Public Agenda, is a co-founder of She is the author or co-author of studies on education, families, religion, race relations, manners and civility, retirement, welfare, and health care.

For more information please visit and follow the authors on Facebook and Twitter

Book Review

Drowning in Oil: BP and Reckless Pursuit of Profit
By Loren C. Steffy

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” uttered by Jack Nicholson’s character Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men is one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. Author Loren C. Steffy has written the literary equivalent. His book, Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit reads a like a Tom Clancy novel. It’s packed with intrigue, rich oil barons and sheiks and kings, as well as political and industrial skullduggery against a backdrop of backroom politics and corruption. In the name of profit, 18 lives were lost, countless lives and businesses impacted as well livelihoods (some generations in the making), destroyed. And did I mention the 200 million barrels of crude oil which flowed into the delicate ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the bayous, and beaches as far away as Florida?

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon was a time bomb which didn’t need to happen as Steffy deftly explains, but it did. Steffy takes the reader on an engrossing journey through the boardroom and backrooms of a very elite club to revel the reasons why the greatest man-made disaster to date happened, and who, in reality, was to blame.

The book is 259 pages of excitement. Well written and researched, Drowning in Oil hooks the reader like the best mystery novel, but the events described are all too real. An excellent book for anyone interested in political or corporate corruption, energy, the environment, current events, or just likes an engaging book. This book tops my recommendation list! Can you handle the truth?

No comments: