Saturday, December 18, 2010

Senate joins House to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In what seemed an unlikely outcome until just days ago, the Senate this afternoon passed a repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, restricting "known" gays and lesbians from serving in the military. As the House previously approved the change in policy, the legislation immediately goes to the President for quick signing and then implementation. Thankfully, 8 Republicans joined 57 Democrats to approve the bill, 65 to 31.

As expected, New Hampshire (NH) Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat) voted in favor of repeal. Retiring NH Senator Judd Gregg was apparently absent or did not vote. Unfortunate, as this was an opportunity to end his Senate career on a high note, as I wrote in an e-mail to him, sent earlier in the day:
Senator Gregg,
I hope you will enhance your legacy as a Senator by voting to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
As you know, gays and lesbians are serving honorably—and dying—in our armed forces, defending the American principles of freedom and justice. Yet we don't provide them with the same freedom and justice, instead insisting that they keep their sexuality secret and live without the integrity of being who they are.
Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen support repeal of DADT. The Pentagon has thoughtfully studied repeal, and Secretary Gates has clearly stated that repeal will mean a considered transition to the new policy.
If DADT comes before the Senate before you retire, I hope you will cast a vote supporting our gay and lesbian service men and women. That's far more important to your legacy as a Senator, to being a compassionate human being, than following the Republican policy line.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Federal debt and extension of the Bush tax cuts

Republicans in Congress have refused to extend long-term unemployment benefits unless the $33-billion cost does not add to the Federal debt, meaning other programs are cut. To add interest to the debate, yesterday the government released the latest employment data, showing the unemployment rate rising from 9.6 to 9.8%.  WSJ report here.

In a parallel universe, the Republicans are holding to their position to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, not just those earning under $250,000 per year as advocated by President Obama. The Christian Science Monitor calculates the cost of this tax break for the upper income earners at $68-billion per year.

Does this inconsistency seems hypocritical to you?

It sure seems that way to me — enough that I penned the following to send to Representative Boehner (House Majority Leader in the new Congress) and Senator McConnell (Senate Minority Leader):
On the one hand, you decry the defict and debt and say we cannot afford extending benefits for the unemployed — even with the unemployment rate rising. 
Yet you argue that tax cuts for the wealthiest in the nation should be extended -- $68-billion annually that would reduce the deficit or pay for the $33-billion extension of unemployment benefits. 
Your position sure seems hypocritical and pure politics, certainly not representing the best interests of our country.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is recommending the repeal of the Clinton-era Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy restricting gays and lesbians who have come out from serving in the military. Read his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee here.

Senator John McCain is opposing repeal, at least at this time, as noted in his opening statement at the same Senate committee hearing.

Frustrated by the Senator's position — perhaps a lightning rod for my impatience at the terribly slow progress in affirming gay and lesbian rights — I posted the following comment on Senator McCain's web site:
Senator McCain,
I am very disappointed by your position on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
You ask whether this is the appropriate time, whether repealing the current policy is premature.
I ask what the men and women of our armed forces are defending if not the rights of all of our citizens to fulfill their potentials — including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
Only over the recent span of my adult life have I seen this nation begin to recognize and affirm the rights of gays. I am thankful that my teenage children hold none of the biases and pejorative assumptions that were prevalent when I was their age.
I have faith that those in our services who have concerns will respond to the "better angels of our nature" with appropriate leadership and education.
Senator, I ask you to help provide that leadership and support Defense Secretary Gates' recommendation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Juan Williams affair

NPR terminated news analyst Juan Williams this week, after he appeared on Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News and spoke of his fears seeing Muslims in airports.
I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
These words sparked the controversy, yet if you watch the whole segment, I think you'll see that Juan Williams was also attempting to caution Bill O'Reilly from making sweeping generalizations about Muslims.

Surprisingly, Juan Williams' dismissal initiated a huge backlash against NPR. Not surprisingly, especially two weeks before the mid-term election, NPR's decision provided fodder for long-time critics who see the outlet as a voice for liberals. Beyond the predictable criticism, many were upset that NPR's move was an abrogation of Williams' right to free speech, particularly when characterized as not being politically correct.

There are many dimensions to this controversy, and I don't see either NPR or Juan Williams as clearly right or wrong. I am dismayed by the knee-jerk reactions and lack of thoughtful reflection to see the whole truth that both share pieces of. I don't have the time or energy to develop and articulate my views now, but I will share a posting I wrote for the NHPR web site:
Unfortunately, much of the criticism of NPR's termination of Juan Williams reflects the same knee-jerk reaction that NPR is accused of: lack of a thoughtful, measured, transparent response with the flexibility to shape the outcome through dialog and understanding.

The Williams issue raises legitimate questions that don't have easy answers:

Was it possible for Juan Williams to maintain credibility as a "balanced analyst" on NPR while he "editorialized" on Fox News?

More broadly, does the journalist's role of analyst or host of a news program restrict that individual's right to unfettered free speech? Could Walter Cronkite have maintained his credibility if he told us what he really felt about the stories he reported?

As a nation, how can we discuss our fears through a process that leads to learning and understanding, without having the conversation labeled racist or bigoted and abruptly terminated?

NPR is one organization that can help us address these questions, so we all learn and grow from the Juan Williams affair.

To those whose disappointment in NPR leads to the reponse to no longer fund public radio, I ask you to reconsider. Despite shortcomings, NPR is a vital journalistic voice in our democracy and needs to be supported and strengthened.
It's truly unfortunate that this issue has become a political football, and our society has lost the opportunity for the teaching moment.

For more background on the story:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The evolution of journalism and media

Today's New York Times Sunday Book Review has an enlightening review of Alan Brinkley's biography of Henry Luce (The Publisher, Henry Luce and His American Century).

The story of Luce and his publications (Time, Life, Fortune) reflect the embodiment of journalism through much of the 20th century; these publications are — or were, in the case of Life — icons of my life.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the Times, concludes his review with a summary of the present state of journalism, media, and American society. I find it worthy of memorializing:
It would be a mistake to sentimentalize the previous century’s version of journalistic authority. But it is probably fair to say that the cacophony of today’s media — in which rumor and invective often outpace truth-testing, in which shouting heads drown out sober reflection, in which it is possible for people to feel fully informed without ever encountering an opinion that contradicts their prejudices — plays some role in the polarizing of our politics, the dysfunction of our political system and the increased cynicism of the American electorate.