Support Our Transgender Soldiers

Dear Brave Members of the U.S. Armed Services,

I am writing to express my regret for the thoughtless edict sent out by our “Twitter-in-Chief” banning transgender service members (after expressing support for the LGBT community during the campaign). Trump’s ban is an inexcusable, un-American expression of hate. It simply does not reflect the values of our country.

I join the vast majority of Americans who are eternally indebted to you for the daily sacrifices you make to keep us safe. Transgender troops are especially brave because you not only risk enemy fire like other service members, but you also face being stigmatized because of your sexual identity.

I would like to applaud the military leadership for not confusing a morning tweet with an actual policy directive. The American people will always have your back, just as you risk your lives to protect ours. We are grateful for your continued service.

 
On the same day that Trump tweeted about banning transgender people from serving in the military, Tal Schneider, a blogger and journalist in Israel, tweeted the following about the Israeli military:

Vote for Presidential Debate Question: Torture

The Commission on Presidential Debates is asking people to vote on questions to ask Clinton and Trump. We have proposed a question relating to the limits on the kinds of orders which a president can issue as commander-in-chief.

When should the generals refuse a direct order from the president?
Can the military disobey an order from the president if they believed a preemptive strike requires Congressional authorization or an interrogation technique violates the Geneva convention?

Vote here.

We believe this question is especially relevant since Donald Trump insisted at the Fox News Debate last March that he can bully the generals into following illegal orders.

FOX HOST BRET BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.

So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

DONALD TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

BAIER: But they’re illegal.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he — now we’re talking about waterboarding.

This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last — two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too, because, frankly that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine — can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding. That’s my opinion.

BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?

TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.


Similarly, Trump promised to attack the Iranian navy if their soldiers make rude gestures.

And, by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people, that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.

Perhaps a reasoned discussion of the limits of presidential authority are in order before we get to a constitutional crisis where our military leaders have to choose to follow their commander-in-chief or the law. Heaven help us if they disagree on what to choose.

The moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz have agreed to consider the most popular questions, so please vote. Consider it practice for November 8.

World Record: US-Israel to conduct largest-ever joint military drill

— by David Streeter

U.S. and Israeli forces will be conducting their largest joint military exercise in the coming weeks, according to The Jerusalem Post. The exercise — known as Austere Challenge 12 — will start on October 21 and focus on strengthening Israel’s air and missile defense capabilities. Notably, the exercise will include further testing of Israel’s Iron Dome missile interception system, a project which was championed and funded by the Obama administration.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

The US and Israel will commence the largest-ever joint air defense drill of its kind in Israel on October 21, an army source said on Tuesday….

[L]arge numbers of American soldiers are expected to begin arriving in Israel, where they will set up aerial defense positions on Israeli territory and on US Navy vessels off the Israeli coastline.

The three-week drill will simulate various missile defense scenarios, and is expected to end with a live-fire interception of a decoy incoming Patriot missile.

One of the objectives of the drill is to facilitate the rapid deployment of US missile defense systems to Israel and test their ability to operate in conjunction with Israeli defense systems during a conflict….

In 2009, the IDF and US European Command held the Juniper Cobra 10 air defense exercise, which involved 1,400 US soldiers and the same number of IDF soldiers.

The exercise was hailed as a success by Israeli and American military commanders.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said of the U.S.-Israel military relationship, “the US and Israel hold regular joint exercises between the militaries” and that the upcoming drill represents “another milestone in the common strategic relations between the US and Israel.”

U.S. & Israel Partner to Perform Largest Joint Military Exercise

— by Danielle Lehrer

In October, the U.S. military will partner with the Israeli Defense Forces to assist in Preparing Israel for potential missile attacks from Iran and Syria. This joint military project is the largest one that Israel or the U.S. have ever taken part in-about 3,000 US soldiers and thousands of Israeli troops will participate.

According to The Times of Israel:

News of the drill comes amid ongoing violence in Syria, and with Israel and the US closely discussing the means to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive. The commander of the 3rd Air Force, Lt.-Gen.Craig A. Franklin, on a recent visit to Israel, established a planning committee with representatives of the IDF to coordinate the details of the exercise, the Maariv Hebrew daily reported Monday. Some 3,000 US soldiers are to participate, alongside thousands of Israeli troops.

During the drill, hundreds of rockets will be fired, providing Israel with the opportunity to test their upgraded Arrow 2 anti-missile system.

According to The Times of Israel:

According to Maariv, some military analysts have nicknamed the exercise a ‘dress rehearsal’ for a potential military conflict, noting that it will send a clear message to Iran…

Obama Supplied Israel with Bunker-Busting Bombs

— by Ariela Fleisig

It was reported last night that President Barack Obama covertly authorized an unprecedented amount of aid to the Israeli military, including bunker-busting bombs.

Politico’s Mackenzie Weinger reported that Obama authorized the sale of deep-penetrating bombs to Israel, a deal that President George W. Bush consistently rejected:

Just a few months after taking office, Obama authorized the delivery of 55 deep-penetrating bombs to Israel, Newsweek will detail in an article appearing on Monday. Israeli and U.S. officials told Newsweek that Israel first requested the ‘GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators’ in 2005, but the Bush administration did not okay the deal. Then, in 2007, President George W. Bush told Israel he would order the bombs for the country and release them in 2009 or 2010.

Obama delivered the weapons in 2009, the report says. While Israel had developed the capability to make its own deep-penetrating bombs, officials said, the U.S. sale was less expensive.

Weinger also noted:

The article will include additional information on the U.S.’s covert efforts to assist the Israeli military. U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) told the magazine that Obama issued ‘orders to the military to ratchet up the cooperation at every level with Israel.’

Weinger reported why the deal was made in secret:

Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Newsweek although U.S. military officials were fine with the sale, they had concerns about ‘how the Iranians would perceive it.’

‘If we say yes, have we somehow given someone a green light without intending to? Whether that green light was an Israeli green light to go do something or whether it was a message to the Iranians, OK these guys aren’t serious about talking, they are starting to arm themselves,’ Cartwright told the magazine.

Click here to read Weinger’s full article.

Tax Calculators: Tax cut savings? How much is going to Afghanistan?

Check out the White House tax cut calculator to learn how the December tax deal will benefit you, both in your taxes for 2011 and in your paychecks right now.

Now, check out Derrick Crowe, Robert Greenwald and the Brave New Foundation’s tax calculator at http://rethinkafghanistan.com/… and find out how much of your taxes are being spent to prosecute wars in the Middle East.

Sec’y of Defense Robert Gates on Strength of US-Israel Relationship

— David Streeter

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Israel and held a high level meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The two have met multiple times over the last two years and their latest meeting underscores the Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security in the face of a changing Middle East.

During the post-meeting press conference, Barak praises Gates’ personal commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship:

I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

Gates spoke on the current state of U.S.-Israel relations during his prepared remarks:

I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion-cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

And during an exchange with a reporter Gates said:

President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

Gates concluded his prepared remarks by affirming the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

Full transcript follows the jump.
Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel

MIN. BARAK:  Good afternoon.  I will make a short statement in English, then a few words in Hebrew and then will yield to the secretary.  And then we’ll answer one question on each side, with your permission.

           I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

           We share with the United States a common set of values, and the main topic that we discussed is the developments in the region and the need to keep fighting against terror and the sources of radical behavior.

           Just in the recent hour, once again a rocket hit Ashdod and probably another one even north of Ashdod, and that’s part of an escalation which takes part in the last several days.  I would like to reemphasize that Israel will not tolerate these terror attacks, and we will not allow terror to rise once again.

           The Israel Defense Forces are our main guarantee for deterrence, consultation and even for the backing of our efforts to pursue peace in the region, which we continuously keep doing.

           And once again, I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

           (Continues in Hebrew.)

           SEC. GATES:  It’s a pleasure to be back in Israel and to have this opportunity to visit with my friend Ehud Barak, a true warrior-statesman and someone I’ve known and respected and worked with for over 20 years.

           I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

           In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

           Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

           Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

           As you know, I have a full agenda here during my visit.  Later today, I will see President Peres.  Tomorrow, I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss our defense relationship and the prospects for a two-state solution, and I will then have discussions with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad.

           I know there may be a temptation during this time of great uncertainty in the region to be more cautious about pursuing the peace process, but in my meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, I carry a different message:  that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution.  And as the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them in any way we can.

           In closing, every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

           Thank you, Ehud, for hosting us, and I look forward to seeing you again at dinnertime.

           STAFF:  Thank you.  Thank you both.

           Now two questions.  We start with an American question, then an Israeli question.

           STAFF:  (Off mic.)

           Q:  Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  This is a question for both Minister Barak and Secretary Gates.  What is your opinion of the upheaval that has now reached Syria by all accounts?  Is this something that Israel’s encouraged by?  Perhaps not, given calls by yourself at times to approach the Assad government for peace.  I’d also like to deepen that question and ask whether Israel sees potentially a Syrian connection to the flare-up in Gaza.  It’s no secret that Islamic Jihad, Hamas have their headquarters in Syria.  Perhaps there’s an outside interest in opening up that front?

           SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is, in fact, the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people, in some of these countries — Libya is an example, Syria is another example — where authoritarian regimes have suppressed their people and have been willing to use violence against them. Of course, the other example is the Iranian government prepared to use force against its own people.

           And so I think that what we see is the opening to the future that’s occurring in virtually all of these countries.  Some of them are dealing with it better than others.  I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate, and in fact, empowered a revolution.  The Syrians might take a lesson from that.

           MIN. BARAK:  First of all, I do not pretend to know exactly what happens now in Syria.  We learn it through a low-visibility kind of filters.  But if our — and I’m — I think that we are lucky enough to be at the center or the focal point of this internal (inaudible) Syria.  But if I would have to advise them, I would join the advice of the secretary, saying that we prefer the Egyptian model of behavior rather than the Libyan one to be adopted by our neighbors.

           In regard to the peace opportunities, once again, we cannot — we cannot pass a judgment right now whether it’s good or not, whether the situation really is right or not.  But in time, the Syrian government will decide that they are open to consider negotiating with us.  We will be open.  But it’s up to them.  It’s their decision.  We cannot pass a judgment.  I think that this difficult situation creates not just sweat and challenges but also opportunities.  And we have be — have to be alert to be able to see those opportunities the moment they emerge rather than let them slip out of our fingers and face the uncertainties of a deeper chaos in the Middle East.

           SEC. GATES:  Phil.

           Q:  Thank you.  And this is a question for both of you.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  Can you repeat the question?  I’m not (inaudible).

           Q:  Sure.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that’s it not about giving a name or description to this response, though is a need to respond.  Every sovereign would have responded when its citizenry is — became a target for indiscriminate launching of rockets.  I do not know any government that would sit idle.  So we have to respond.

           Now, we do not want to become the — kind of the — kind of the victims of our own (inaudible).  So we keep the right to pass a judgment about how, when and in what kind of amount of firepower or ammunition to respond.  But we will respond.  We have to respond.  And we are determined to bring back tranquility to the region.  And unfortunately, this tough neighborhood, it cannot be done without the readiness and practice of using, from time to time, force.

           SEC. GATES:  I think the Israelis will have to make their own decision in terms of how to respond.  No sovereign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its — at its — at its people.

           I think one of the — one of the significant features of what is going on across the region is that as diverse as the countries are, where there is — where there are demonstrations and unrest, in virtually every case, the theme of those demonstrations has been directed inward at problems in those countries.  And I think we all just need to be mindful to keep that we don’t want to do anything that allows extremists or others to divert the narrative of reform that is going on in virtually all of the countries of the region.

           MIN. BARAK:  Please, last question for an Israeli reporter.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just emphasized the special relationship between the United States and Israel.  In light of the recent events in the Middle East, could you comment on Minister Barak’s suggestion that the United States will expand its military aid to Israel by $20 billion?  And Mr. Barak, regarding the shootings from Gaza, do you see Hamas as the only — only Hamas as responsible for this situation, or do you make a distinction between Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

           MIN. BARAK:  I would like to answer, sir, with your permission.  I raised the issue of 20 billion [dollars] as a part of a wider development; will Israel sign a peace agreement with a major neighbor, be it the Palestinians or the whole region or Syria or whatever.  It’s only within this context when we are taking extra mile of risks in order to stabilize the whole region that we can afford turning to the United States and ask them, in spite of all the circumstances therein, to try to help us to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation.

           In fact, that’s nothing new.  I talked about it 10 years ago with Clinton.  I talked about it five years ago with President Bush.  I already talked to him about it more than once at the Pentagon and the (inaudible) Americans.

           So it’s nothing new about it.  In order to make peace in this tough neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves, Israel has to take further security risks for all potential development that could happen, as we see around there from time to time.  And that’s where we ask the United States to help us to upgrade our security capabilities by systems that sometimes they are the only one who produces (inaudible).  And we’ve sent in support for us in systems that only we know how to build and develop.

           In regarding to your other question, we see the Hamas as responsible because Hamas is basically not just a terrorist group.  It’s also the regime in Gaza.  And they have to enforce or impose their will upon — be it the Islamic Jihad or other dissident groups.  We cannot make this fine differentiation between different sources of rockets.  When the rockets come on the head of a family somewhere in Ashkelon or in Beersheba or in a small village or city around the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t matter for them whether it came from the — this gang or the other gang or from the Islamic Jihad or from the Hamas.  For us, Hamas is responsible for whatever comes from Gaza.

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I understood the minister’s comment and in precisely the context that he described it.  And I would just restate what I said in my opening statement, that President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

           David.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just come from Egypt.  And I wonder whether in your conversations with Field Marshal Tantawi and others you had any chance to think about whether Egypt will be as strong a partner as it has been in security issues — for example, in preventing smuggling of weapons to Gaza — and if you had any other questions or concerns after your visit.

           And Minister Barak, I’d be interested in your views about the new Egypt.  And also, as this revolution spreads, it seems now, to Syria, to lemon — to Yemen, to other countries, do you sometimes think —

           MIN. BARAK:  Well, not Iran.

           Q:  Well —

           MIN. BARAK:  We wish together that it will jump directly to Tehran, yeah.

           Q:  Include that in your answer.  But my question is whether you ever wonder whether the United States is — has been so supportive of change that perhaps it should think a bit more about stability in addition?

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I was quite reassured by my conversations in Egypt, and in particular with Field Marshal Tantawi, about their commitment to the treaty with Israel and to their commitment to continuing a high-level dialogue on a routine basis between Israeli and Egyptian leaders.  They, too, are concerned about the smuggling problem.  And I offered our assistance to them, technical and otherwise, in terms of getting a handle on this.  But I came away persuaded that they take it seriously, and that they also take the relationship with Israel seriously.

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that the historic aspect that we see on the — all over — all around the Arab world is something unprecedented — we didn’t see such phenomena since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire some hundred years ago, almost hundred years ago, or the — or the demise of the French colonial empire some 60 or 50 — it depends how you count — years ago.

           And it’s really — historically speaking, it’s moving and inspiring phenomena; clearly promising for the future of the Arab people, for the young generation in the Arab world, for the right of women, for the right to self — express themselves and so on.

           But unfortunately, we are experienced (inaudible).  As the secretary mentioned today, you know, an optimist in the Middle East is a — a pessimist in the Middle East is an optimist with experience.  We have to follow historic experiences of similar revolutions.  Usually after a short period of elation from the romanticism and the idealism that spreads around the streets, there might come, and came in the past, a determined group, however small, who is ready to kill and be killed if necessary in order to come to power, and they come to power.

           So we have to look around us and make whatever we can.  We are extremely limited in our capacity to influence.  United States has more influence.  But the rest of the world should support the elements that provides or ensures stability in the short range and try to minimize the chances of extremist group to come to power.

           I believe that the basic process is good.  It’s true that the moderate (inaudible) leaders in the region, and I don’t count neither Libya or Iran among them, but the others who are extremely sensitive and responsible regarding to the stability issue and extremely sensitive to international commitments, including the Israeli-Egyptian peace.  So I feel that we have to be careful and open-eyed in the short term to minimize negative developments and minimize risk for stability, but in the long run it’s — it is an extremely positive phenomena.

           In regard to the Egyptian leadership, I know Field Marshal Tantawi for many years.  In fact, 35 years or so — 30 years ago, we fought each other.  We were both (inaudible) battalion commanders in the same — in the same sector when we crossed the Suez Canal.  He was protecting the Eastern Bank with his infantry battalion.  I came with my tank battalion.  When I talked to him after he took power, I told him we have an utmost responsibility to make sure that our younger generation will not find themselves in the same experiences we had been through.

           And I cannot quote him of course, but I have a reason to believe that as long as the Egyptian armed forces are in power, they’re a major pillar of stability within Egypt.  The peace agreement, as well as other Egyptian international commitments, will be respected and kept.

           Thank you once again, my friend, Bob Gates, and have a good stay here.  Thank you all.

DADT Repeal is now Official

Today was filled with historic votes:

  • the 9/11 Health Bill was passed unanimously by the Senate,
  • the Senate ratified the New START Treaty 71-26, and
  • President Barack Obama signed into law the repeal of the United States Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Video:

“Many of you probably remember the exchange earlier this year when Lt. Dan Choi gave Harry Reid his West Point ring and said he wouldn’t take it back until DADT was repealed. Today, Reid gave him the ring back. Powerful video.” (John Marshall – Talking Point Memo)

Reaction by the David A. Harris (NJDC) to these three historic events follows the jump.

The Invocation at the DADT Repeal Signing was given by Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff.

Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs; a former line officer who served in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence before attending rabbinical school; a retired Navy Chaplain who earned the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work with military and civilian leaders throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East while serving as the Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command;  and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee.  From June 2005 to June 2006, he served as  Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force, with the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General.  Headquartered in the Pentagon, this appointment took him to Air Force bases in more than ten countries around the world, including those in Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  On June 16, 2006, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne presented him with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service–the highest award that the Air Force can present to a civilian. In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep Todd Platts (R-PA) were the only Republican Congressmen in attendance.
— David A. Harris

Senate Passes 9/11 Health Bill

The Senate voted to pass a bill that would “cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.”

The New York Times reported:

The vote, passed by unanimous consent, came soon after a deal was reached between conservative Republicans and Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Democrats agreed to changes demanded by the conservative lawmakers, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate. After drawing criticism in recent days from Democrats and Republicans alike, the Republican senators backed down.

NJDC, alongside so many others in the American Jewish community, was a vocal advocate for health care reform in our country. We applaud the Senate for taking yet another step forward in improving our health care system and honoring the brave men and women who risked their lives to save the lives of others. NJDC also thanks Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their unwavering commitment to see this important bill passed.

START Treaty

Today’s ratification of the New START treaty by the Senate is yet another step forward in securing our country and helping to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. While the treaty’s effects on strengthening the U.S.-Russia relationship are significant and monumental in their own right, the New START treaty will ultimately bolster the ability of the United States and Russia to jointly confront Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

With Iran at the top of the pro-Israel agenda, NJDC was at the forefront of urging the American Jewish community to lend a voice to the debate over the treaty. In mid-November NJDC issued a statement to community leaders saying ‘The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait.’ We are proud that our communal effort helped to shine light on the importance of ratifying this crucial treaty.

We commend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for their leadership in making New START a top priority, and we applaud the Democratic Senate leadership – working together with key Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar – for pushing forward the effort to ratify the treaty despite opposition and excuses from a small Republican minority who defiantly stood against the recommendations of our military leadership. Ultimately, Senators on both sides of the aisle understood the importance of ratifying this treaty for our own security – and that it will help to continue our efforts to protect the global community from a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Signing

With the East Room and other key real estate at the White House taken up with holiday decorations and tours, this morning’s presidential signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 has been moved a few blocks away to the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The auditorium is packed with a who’s-who of the leadership within the gay rights and civil rights communities, and a wide array of figures who were essential in bringing about this long, long overdue policy change-including many key members of the House and Senate. The moving opening invocation-delivered by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff-reminded us all of the many who had served before who had to hide their identities. President Barack Obama received nothing short of a star welcome, replete with chants of “yes we can” and shouts of thanks from the gathered crowd. The President spoke about the critical and historic nature of this moment, and he praised at length all of those who helped to bring this moment about-including the leadership of our military, and especially Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who was on hand for the signing. As the President said just before signing, we are not a nation that says “don’t ask, don’t tell”-we are a nation that believes all are created equal. And as he firmly declared to cheers as he completed his signature, “This is done.”

Much ink has been spilled about the state of relations between President Obama and the GLBT community-perhaps as much as has been used in writing about relations between the White House and the Jewish community. But this morning the President made good on yet another key campaign pledge, as he helped our nation make another significant stride forward in civil rights and equality. Before long, openly gay and lesbian service members who wish to stand in defense of their country will be able to do so-making this a good day indeed.

Today’s vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.

This legislative step was a demonstration that good policy-doing the right thing-can also make for good politics. Indeed, Saturday’s vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” is truly historic. This step sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. President Obama-and the House and Senate leadership-are to be commended for shining a bright light on this issue, and for their leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. And when history looks back at the naysayers who tried to block the march of progress-those like Sen. John McCain, who would not accept the verdict of the top leaders of today’s military, let alone the voices of the clear majority of those serving both in and out of uniform-it will not be kind.

WSJ: US, Israel Build Military Cooperation

This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that under President Barack Obama’s leadership military cooperation with Israel has increased. The article said, “U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year. Top-ranking U.S. and Israeli soldiers have shuttled between Tel Aviv and Washington with unusual frequency in recent months. A series of joint military exercises in Israel has included a record number of American troops.”

According to the article, “This month, about 200 U.S. Marines joined a battalion of Israeli soldiers for an all-night march through the Negev desert, the culmination of three weeks of joint drills. As dawn approached, they crept up on a mock village, an Israeli military-built recreation of a typical Palestinian hamlet, used for combat training.”

The piece also noted, “The exercise was the biggest U.S.-Israeli joint infantry exercise ever, according to officials. By comparison, at the same exercise last year, there were only around 20 U.S. Marines involved. In the fall, there will be an even bigger joint infantry exercise involving tanks and armored vehicles, officials said.”

You can read the full article here.

This development is part of a larger trend of closer and closer military cooperation between the United States and Israel under President Obama’s leadership.

Army Comic Book Explains “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

Rachel Maddow gives voice to the 2001 U.S. Army’s Comic Book guide to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding homosexual soldiers in the military. Courtesy of Comics with problems.

The policy was enacted in 1993 by the Clinton Administration, and is currently under review by the military.