Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dan Choi signs up

In July, Lt Dan Choi was discharged from the military for the 'crime' of being gay. With federal Judge Virginia Phillips issuing a halt to discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Pentagon telling recruiters that while Phillips' injunction on discharges is in place, they must not discriminate in recruiting against gays or lesbians (see Rebecca's "don't ask barack because he will tell" from last night), Dan Choi took action yesterday.

I'm headed to the Times Square Recruiting Station. #DADT I'm gonna try to enlist in the Marines today. Anyone else can meet me at NYC Times Sq now. Walking through Chelsea about to enlist; reminded of our beautiful diversity. This is what makes America worth defending. In the recruiting station. Apparently I'm too old for the Marines! Just filled out the Army application. Joining AC360 tonite on my recruitment back to the Army! #DADT #itgetsbetter

As Dan Tweeted, he was on Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN) last night -- here for transcript, here for video (and you have to navigate on that page, go to TV, and then choose Anderson Cooper). Excerpt:

COOPER: There's breaking news on the Pentagon's don't ask, don't tell policy, which bars gays from serving openly in the military.

Tonight, a federal judge in California denied the Obama administration's request that she suspend her own ruling, which struck down the policy as unconstitutional. Now, the administration will most certainly appeal the decision, but it comes on the same day that we learned of a stunning recruitment change by the Pentagon.

For the first time in the history of this country, the U.S. military is now telling its recruiters that they can accept openly gay and lesbian applicants. They made the change because of the federal judge's ruling.

Former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi went to a recruiting station in New York today to re-up. He's a veteran of the Iraq war, an Arab linguist, and a West Point graduate who was discharged earlier this year after announcing he was gay.

A short time ago, I spoke to Dan Choi. I also spoke to Alex -- Alex Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United, who was also discharged under the policy. He's a plaintiff in the case the judge ruled on. And our own Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst, joined in the discussion.


COOPER: Dan, you were discharged from the Army, what, a couple of months ago. Today, you actually went back to reenlist. What happened?

DAN CHOI, DISCHARGED UNDER DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL POLICY: They allowed me to reenlist. They allowed me to sign up.

We know that don't ask, don't tell has been dead for a week now, seven days. And they're allowing people to sign up and be openly gay.

COOPER: So -- so, I mean, you walked in to, what, the Times Square recruiting office today?

CHOI: That's right.

COOPER: And you -- you tried to join the Marine Corps, but you were too -- you're too old for that.

CHOI: A couple months too old. So...

COOPER: A couple months too old. So -- so, what did you sign up for?

CHOI: The Army took me. And they're processing my paperwork right now.

I was an officer before. I graduated from West Point and served in Iraq, but now I get to follow my dreams. I want to be enlisted.

COOPER: Did you tell them today that you were gay?

CHOI: Yes. I said that I was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I have no intention of keeping it secret. I want to sign up and serve with the full measure of integrity and honor and tell the truth of who I am. I don't intend to keep that part of my life silent.

COOPER: And what was the reaction in the office among the soldier you were talking with?

CHOI: Very professional, motivating and very inspirational. Told me all about what the Army is and...

COOPER: They gave you have the regular spiel? Really? That's kind of fascinating.

CHOI: Well...

COOPER: And did you kind of say like, "Yes, I know that part. I went to West Point."

CHOI: They were excited because it's rare to see people who have prior service to come back and particularly in a time of war. They need people of all different skills. And being able to speak Arabic and wanting to be a linguist, they also told me, you know, it's the needs of the Army. It's whatever the Army needs.

I said, I've also been through airborne, air assault training, Rangers school and infantry training.

COOPER: By any traditional benchmark for the military you would be a great candidate. CHOI: That's right. So a week ago, even with all these qualifications, I would have been turned away if I would have said that I'm gay, and I intend to be honest about it. Today was very different.

COOPER: And they handed you a pamphlet, too.

CHOI: They said, "Stand up, stand out and stand Army strong." I was very excited.

COOPER: So your paperwork is going through?

CHOI: It's going through, and they're processing it. I'm very happy about it.

Now from Paul Rieckhoff's "Wake Up, America! War Off the Radar, Congress Fails" (Huffington Post):

After nearly a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 2 million Americans have served, a trillion dollars have been spent and yet only 3 percent of Americans have war on their radar this election.
And where's Congress? Spinning on the campaign trail, scrambling for last-minute endorsements and as Tom Brokaw rightly noted in The New York Times this week, still doing nothing to wake up the country about the surge of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I'm not a fan of Paul Rieckhoff's for obvious reasons (if you're late to the party, attacking Ehren Watada verbally on CNN was only the tip of PR's problems) but I was willing to open the next entry with the excerpt. What changed? He suggests everyone visit IAVA to see their 2010 Report Card on Congress -- you can search by your own address or by the last name of a member of the Senate or the House. And I played with it and everyone gets a B? Or at least all Democrats. Jim Webb is attacking veterans benefits and attempting to slash them. He gets a B. He gets a B?

Bob Filner busts his ass and he gets the same grade as Jim Webb?

Their report card is a joke. If you're a Republican in Congress, you're not getting a good grade. As someone who attends the actual veterans hearings, I do know what's said and I also know who works on issues and who doesn't. Yes, there are a few Republicans who work very hard on veterans issues. And yet, I'm looking at a C, for example, on a Republican and I'm reading their 'explanation' and they don't even have his record right. It's a joke. Paul's always been a Vote Democrat! type of fellow. I thought wrongly he had something worth saying based on his Huff Po column. No, he's just learned to latch on to trends emerging in attempts to market his voters' guide.

Veterans benefits are on the chopping block and no one wants to tell you that, certainly not Paul. We've been telling you all damn year. It slipped out in a hearing when Senator Scott Brown apparently misstated his question and a government witness replied that of course veterans benefits could be cut for budget reasons and Brown suddenly stopped his reply, cut him off and changed the subject. Since then, Jim Webb's been very clear that he's still the same hateful bastard he was when he served under Reagan -- no surprise considering his xenophobic novels -- and made clear that he doesn't give a damn about Vietnam veterans or their suffering from exposure to Agent Orange. He made that even more clear in an open hearing. But don't expect Paul to tell you about that either because he's not about reality, he's never been about reality. And he's not prepared people for what's coming at all.

I wanna hold you
And protect you from the change
Though I know it's gonna happen anyway
-- "Nobody's Child," written by Maria McKee and Robbie Robertson, from her self-titled debut

He's the pathetic War Hawk Rachel Maddow's little buddy. Brought on with "Ask A Vet" on that awful Unfiltered program. Remember when Lizz and Rachel had their on air meltdown because a listener dared to point out that all the "Ask A Vet"s in these segments supported continuing the Iraq War -- on the allegedly liberal Air America Radio? That listener was Elaine. She caused a meltdown -- an on air meltdown -- just by asking why the hell no veteran opposed to the continued illegal war could ever be on the show? She further asked why they couldn't have a weekly "Ask A Peace Advocate" segment and when she pointed out that when they're bringing on veterans who are in the news for spousal abuse and presenting those veterans as people to be looked up to -- this was a specific man who had beaten his wife and Rachel couldnt' stop raving over him and even had to bring him back for "House Party Friday" later that week -- but they wouldn't present the voices of service members opposed to the war, it was meltdown time. Rachel's always been a pathetic War Hawk. She wants to out butch the world. She will no doubt succeed. And she will forever attract trash because like attracts like which explains both how she ends up with Paul and that pathetic man who served under Colin Powell and loved him all those years, deeply, deeply loved him -- in a sort of No Way Out manner.

The last House Veterans Affairs Hearing was covered in the September 30th snapshot and we'll note a really important statement that was made in that hearing, one that Paul can't be bothered with so his followers will be shocked when reality arrives after the mid-terms.

Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars. And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma. The true cost of war? We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder." And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation. Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that? When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year. We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers. We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years. We don't have it. Why don't we have it? They fought for this nation. We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one. So we have to find a pay-go. But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to. So they system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way. That's much easier than to care for them when they come home. This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get enough money for our veterans. We got to fight for it every day. We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue. This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat. Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea. Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liabiilty of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost. It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically. If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget? Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess." That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.

And Bob's remarks sort of refute Pauley's little opening, don't they? But the press didn't really cover that hearing, did they? Which is the real point, the press has fallen down on the job.

Click here for letters to the New York Times in response to Tom Brokaw's column.

Iraq War veteran Aaron St. Clair where his tasks including providing security for contractors at the Basra water treatment plant where, AP reports, he was exposed to hexavalent chromium and now "suffers from skin rashes, digestive problems and gets short of breath without much effort." The Center for Disease Control notes this on hexavalent chromium:

Hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) compounds are a group of chemical substances that contain the metallic element chromium in its positive-6 valence (hexavalent) state. Occupational exposures to Cr(VI) occur during the production of stainless steel, chromate chemicals, and chromate pigments. Cr(VI) exposures also occur during other work activities such as stainless steel welding, thermal cutting, chrome plating.
NIOSH considers all Cr(VI) compounds to be potential occupational carcinogens. An increased risk of lung cancer has been demonstrated in workers exposed to Cr(VI) compounds. Other adverse health effects associated with Cr(VI) exposure include dermal irritation, skin ulceration, allergic contact dermatitis, occupational asthma, nasal irritation and ulceration, perforated nasal septa, rhinitis, nosebleed, respiratory irritation, nasal cancer, sinus cancer, eye irritation and damage, perforated eardrums, kidney damage, liver damage, pulmonary congestion and edema, epigastric pain, and erosion and discoloration of the teeth.

September 29th, Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) reported: "U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader, and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, introduced a bill in both houses to boost Congressional oversight of defense contracts worth more than $1 million, revoke immunity for harm caused by a contractor's misconduct, and limit immunity in future agreements." That was introduced shortly before Congress adjourned -- not even 24 hours before. And the bill went to committees not to the floor. Meaning? If you're serious on something, you don't wait until hours before adjourning to finally introduce something. And very few things like this bill ever get passed in the lame-duck session that follows mid-term elections. If they were serious about it, they should have introduced it some time ago. As far back as July, Steve Buyer was noting at House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings (where he was Ranking Member) that any legislation they wanted to pass had to be put forward immediately. Wyden and the House members are up for re-election.

The following community sites -- and Tavis Smiley -- updated last night:

And we'll close with this from Green Party candidate John Anthony La Pietra's campaign:

John Anthony La Pietra for
Fairer, Better Elections
Secretary of State * Green Party
386 Boyer Court * Marshall, MI 49068

News Release: October 19, 2010

La Pietra Posts Status of Responses from County Clerks
to Request for Voting-Conditions Survey Information
Two Weeks Before the Election, and No Word Yet from 37 Counties
on Precinct Lists, Polling Places, or How Many Voters Registered

John Anthony La Pietra – the Green Party of Michigan’s candidate for Secretary of State – is still waiting for 37 of the state's 83 county clerks to let him know how many voters are registered in each precinct in their counties, and where the polling places are.

He asked them for this information two weeks ago. And now that there are only two weeks left before Election Day, voters who want to know how their clerks responded to this request can see a status report on John's campaign Website at

John's initial request to the clerks is already on line, at

It was dated October 4 – the last day for voters to register and still be on the rolls at the polls on November 2. But John knew that it might take a while to get some of that information into Michigan's Qualified Voter File. So he assured the clerks, "I understand that this is a busy time for you – and I do not need your precinct list immediately, since I plan to use it together with information I will be receiving from voters on or after Election Day.

"Still, the sooner I do have your lists in hand, the better prepared I can be when the survey responses come in," he added.

40 counties have already given John all three types of information he asked for – precincts, polling places, and registered-voter counts. Four more have provided two out of three types. One has provided links to Webpages with the information. And one county clerk has denied having any of the information, telling John to contact all of the city and township clerks instead.

John has forwarded the request to the local clerks in that county. But he is also letting the county know that other counties have used a standard report function in the state's Qualified Voter File system to tell him how many voters are registered in each precinct. And the QVF report comes out as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file – in a format that allows John to copy the figures and paste them into a statewide database of precincts.

Tying Into Preparations for Grassroots
Survey of Precinct Voting Conditions
The purpose of the information from the clerks is to prepare for John's survey of voting conditions – covering all 5,000+ precincts statewide, if possible. He has been taking every campaign opportunity to invite voters to join in the survey by observing their own precincts next month – “so we’ll have the information we need to equip and staff polling places better, and more fairly, giving us shorter lines and more time to vote.”

A printable page of John's Survey of Voting Conditions is posted on his campaign Website, at

It asks voters who go to their polling places on November 2 to look around – and notice and write down a few simple facts:

* How many voting stations, standing and sit-down,
the precinct has. (And how many more would fit
in the polling place.)

* How many touch-screen voting machines there are.
(This refers to the AutoMARK systems made available
mostly for voters with disabilities, though anyone
may choose to use them.)

* How many vote-counting machines (or “tabulators”)
there are.

* How many poll-workers (“election inspectors”) there
are, and whether there’s any room for more workers.

* What time they went to vote, how long they stay
at the polling place, and how long voting itself
takes them.

* How long the lines are.

The survey page also has spaces for voters to report their city or township, the number of their precinct, their polling place (and whether or not it is shared with other precincts) – and, if they can find out from their clerk or the poll-workers, the number of voters registered in the precinct.

Helping the Voice of the People Express Itself Better –
Letting Voters Know Who They Can Write In and Have it Count
John is going to write the county clerks again later this week on another subject, too.

4pm on Friday, October 22 is the deadline for anyone who wants to be an official write-in candidate and have votes for him or her counted. And each precinct will get a list of write-in candidates who have filed the paperwork to be official – they have to, in order to know which write-in votes they have to count and which they don’t have to count.

But, under the current administration’s interpretation, the names on those lists aren’t available to voters at the polls. The list isn’t posted next to the sample ballot – and even if you ask the election inspectors at your polling place, they’re not allowed to tell you. You have to go to your local clerk’s office and ask there. “And who gets out of line to go do that?” John asks rhetorically.

John believes this is unfair to those candidates -- and it’s unfair to deny voters full information about all of their choices. So even before he has a chance to take office, he’s going to do something about it.

He will send another Freedom of Information Act request to all of the county clerks – and the Bureau of Elections – asking for the names of all officially filed write-in candidates and the offices they are running for. All the information he gets back will be posted on his campaign Website. So will contact information for the counties – so citizens can thank the offices that provided write-in lists, and make their own inquiries to the ones that didn’t.

“Michigan’s elections need to be fairer and better for everyone,” John argues. “Especially the voters -- we’re who elections are for. And if our elections officials are denying us public information about legitimate candidates at precisely the time when we could use it, that’s bad and unfair for everyone.

“It’s a clear example of protecting established parties and interests against even the possibility of having to recognize a protest vote. And that’s the exact opposite of what an election is supposed to be -- the voice of the people, a chance for us to express what we want our government to be.”

For more information on John’s other ideas for non-partisan administration of fairer, better elections for the people, read his “discussion paper” on that subject at

# # #

The e-mail address for this site is

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends