Saturday, January 31, 2009

Agenda, Section Two: Defense

On to the second installment of my commentary on the Agenda section of the revamped White House website. There's a lot going on here, with aquite a few categories to look at .

Heading 1:

Invest in a 21st Century Military

Rebuild the Military for 21st Century Tasks: Obama and Biden believe that we must build up our special operations forces, civil affairs, information operations, and other units and capabilities that remain in chronic short supply; invest in foreign language training, cultural awareness, and human intelligence and other needed counterinsurgency and stabilization skill sets; and create a more robust capacity to train, equip, and advise foreign security forces, so that local allies are better prepared to confront mutual threats.

A bland first statement, and really no different from policy of the last, oh, month or so. Okay, I'm being sarcastic. Bushco rarely looked to use the innovative officers and resources that they had available, instead preferring to to relegate them to useless training positions and deny promotion. Sure, Gates worked on turning that around, but it's not a quick goal. Actually having people capable of implementing this will be a bonus. It's going to require some top brass turnover, though.

Expand to Meet Military Needs on the Ground: Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.
Trying to do this with two wars going, with serious abuses of policy against what is required of current enlistees? Good luck. You're going to have to de-bungle VA and military disability, up compensation, and get the hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq before you get near this goal.

Leadership from the Top: President Obama and Vice President Biden will inspire a new generation of Americans to serve their country, whether it be in local communities in such roles as teachers or first responders, or serving in the military to keep our nation free and safe.
This is Obama's national service meme, with military service added as an option. I can see spillover here, and there's no drama. However, I don't see how we're having two non-veterans at the top of the list manages that particular bit of inspiring.

Lighten the Burdens on Our Brave Troops and Their Families: The Obama-Biden Administration will create a Military Families Advisory Board to provide a conduit for military families' concerns to be brought to the attention of senior policymakers and the public. Obama and Biden will end the stop-loss policy and establish predictability in deployments so that active duty and reserves know what they can and must expect.
This relates back to my comments on the recruitment. Ending stop-loss and abuse of the reservists is going to be key to retention and recruitment, but reasonably managing withdrawl from current commitments makes me think this one isn't happening anytime soon.

Heading 2:

Build Defense Capabilities for the 21st Century

Fully Equip Our Troops for the Missions They Face: Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we must get essential equipment to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines before lives are lost.
Sound bite.

Review Weapons Programs: We must rebalance our capabilities to ensure that our forces can succeed in both conventional wars and in stabilization and counter-insurgency operations. Obama and Biden have committed to a review of each major defense program in light of current needs, gaps in the field, and likely future threat scenarios in the post-9/11 world.
Good move. As cool as stuff like the Joint Strike Fighter is, it isn't what we need in the modern military. I'll admit that basic research needs to retain funding, but things like A-10 Warthogs, Preadator drones, and chemical sniffers are more likely to be helpful in modern warfare. Hell, Silly String is more practical. Let's aim the research funds in the right direction and turn loose.

Preserve Global Reach in the Air: We must preserve our unparalleled airpower capabilities to deter and defeat any conventional competitors, swiftly respond to crises across the globe, and support our ground forces. We need greater investment in advanced technology ranging from the revolutionary, like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities, to essential systems like the C-17 cargo and KC-X air refueling aircraft, which provide the backbone of our ability to extend global power.
See above. Air is faster than naval transport, and is our best bet for rapid response to developing situations. Navy power is good for long-term projection, but when you just have to be there tomorrow, blasting the hell out of something, this is the way to go.

Maintain Power Projection at Sea: We must recapitalize our naval forces, replacing aging ships and modernizing existing platforms, while adapting them to the 21st century. Obama and Biden will add to the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force Squadrons to support operations ashore and invest in smaller, more capable ships, providing the agility to operate close to shore and the reach to rapidly deploy Marines to global crises.
Adjusting Naval forces for more rapid deployment is a good thing. Aircraft carriers + missile boats+ rapid deployment fleets = long-distance, flexible power.

National Missile Defense: The Obama-Biden Administration will support missile defense, but ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective; and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public.

The only saving grace of that statement is the last sentence. Missile defense doesn't work. It has never worked. It openly antagonizes people we currently have no argument with. Drop it. This is a sop to the fact we've already wasted insane amounts of money on it. Hopefully, they can get a look at the results, and quietly drop the damned thing.

Ensure Freedom of Space: The Obama-Biden Administration will restore American leadership on space issues, seeking a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. They will thoroughly assess possible threats to U.S. space assets and the best options, military and diplomatic, for countering them, establishing contingency plans to ensure that U.S. forces can maintain or duplicate access to information from space assets and accelerating programs to harden U.S. satellites against attack.
Not bad. There are treaties preventing the weaponization of space, but nothing defending assets located there. Given our dependence on satellites, this is a good move.

Protect the U.S in Cyberspace: The Obama-Biden Administration cooperate with our allies and the private sector to identify and protect against emerging cyber-threats.
Quick! Summon the Roberts women! Good idea, anyway. This is basic.

Heading 3:

Restore the Readiness of the National Guard and Reserves

Equip, Support, and Modernize the National Guard and Reserves: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will provide the National Guard with the equipment it needs for foreign and domestic emergencies and time to restore and refit before deploying. They will make the head of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure concerns of our citizen soldiers reach the level they mandate. They will ensure that reservists and Guard members are treated fairly when it comes to employment, health, and education benefits.
Adding the head of the Guard to the Joint Chiefs is a good move, given the level of actual military involvement they've had lately. As for the rest, there's no way it's happening until we reduce our commitments and up recruiting, as stated above.

Heading 4:

Develop Whole of Government Initiatives to Promote Global Stability

Integrate Military and Civilian Efforts: The Obama-Biden Administration will build up the capacity of each non-Pentagon agency to deploy personnel and area experts where they are needed, to help move soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out of civilian roles.
This seems like a decent way to limit disruption when deployment occurs. I'm interested in seeing how this will play out.

Create a Civilian Assistance Corps (CAC): Obama and Biden will create a national CAC of 25,000 personnel. This corps of civilian volunteers with special skill sets (doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, etc.) would be organized to provide each federal agency with a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in times of need at home and abroad.
Interesting. There are a lot of cases where civilian deployment is appropriate. This is an intriguing way to go, and I look forward to more news. Sending in non-military relief in a disaster might be a way of projecting influence and image without the baggage that the military carries.

Heading 5:

Restore Our Alliances

Engage Our Allies in Meeting Our Common Security Challenges: America's traditional alliances, such as NATO, must be transformed and strengthened, including on common security concerns like Afghanistan, homeland security, and counterterrorism. President Obama and Vice President Biden will renew alliances and ensure our allies contribute their fair share to our mutual security.
This boils down to two things: First, we need to stop being autocratic douchebags, moving unilaterally in foregin policy. Second, we need to whip NATO in the ass and get them going with us on real strategic concerns of the new century. We aren't working on the Chimperor's agenda anymore, and they need to acknowledge it and step up.

Organize to Help Our Partners and Allies in Need: The Obama-Biden Administration will expand humanitarian activities that build friendships and attract allies at the regional and local level (such as during the response to the tsunami in South and Southeast Asia), and win hearts and minds in the process.
This is where I see the civillian assistance corps mentioned above really coming in to its own. The USA really needs to get its humanitarian cred back. Projecting that image will be almost as effective as projecting any kind of military force, because it wins hearts and minds. The better we are perceived, the less we have to fight.

Heading 6:

Reform Contracting

Create Transparency for Military Contractors: President Obama and Vice President Biden will require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for determining when contracting makes sense, rather than continually handing off governmental jobs to well-connected companies. They will create the transparency and accountability needed for good governance, and establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contractors.
In other words, private contractors will actually be held accountable for money, results, and actions taken. As of this writing, they've already dropped Blackwater. A necessary step, overall, because we are going to have to rely on contractors of all stripes for a long time. paring down the abuses will be key to restoring accountability and trust on all sides.

Restore Honesty, Openness, and Commonsense to Contracting and Procurement: The Obama-Biden Administration will realize savings by reducing the corruption and cost overruns that have become all too routine in defense contracting. This includes launching a program of acquisition reform and management, which would end the common practice of no-bid contracting. Obama and Biden will end the abuse of supplemental budgets by creating a system of oversight for war funds as stringent as in the regular budget. Obama and Biden will restore the government's ability to manage contracts by rebuilding our contract officer corps. They will order the Justice Department to prioritize prosecutions that will punish and deter fraud, waste and abuse.
In other words, we will no longer operate under the, "You know Dick Cheney? Here's $300 billion" school of defense bids. Reform long overdue, but given that Obama's already ignored his new rules on hiring lobbyists for someone in this field, I'm not holding my breath.

Well, that's the end of the "Defense" agenda, as it stands. Stay tuned for the next segment, "Disabilities".


Other posts in this series can be found at the Agenda Index.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yeah, Yeah, I'm here

Agenda update:

Still doing it. I've been sick. Bleagh.

Other short notes:

Reading Your Inner Fish by Neal Shubin. So far, it's a lot like Dawkins's The Ancestor's Tale, only framed in terms of a personal discovery of the similarities between lifeforms. It's doing a good job with the sense of wonder you get from realizing "This led to this, which led to something common to all life with internal skeletons". Not as in-depth as parts of the Dawkins book, but almost better as a demonstration of how cool all this stuff is from the perspective of someone out there doing the work.

Coralius's sooper-seekrit interwebs-related birthday presents are here. Try as I might, I couldn't actually will my vendors to deliver six months late this year, despite ordering with plenty of time and paying promptly, as always. While still late, the vastness of the late is nowhere near the previous average, and threatens to break our tradition of recrimination, lies, and tears. Or not.

Go to Ed Brayton's blog. He's a funny, down-to-earth guy, with a sharp sense of the law and good contacts. Libertarian, but not in the "Batshit-insane-anarcho-capitalist-Randroid-Objectivist" vein. More of the "Don't fuck with my rights" variety, with a social justice bent. He's got a radio show/podcast that has some great interviews. Good poker advice to be had, as well.

Soon: We cover "Defense"-- and I'm not talkin' about my Steelers, either.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Return, A Plan, and an Agenda

Two months since I posted. Yeah, about that...

No excuses. I've had time, I've had ideas, I've been lazy. But, in the words of Baldrick, I have a cunning plan. In honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I will examine each item under the "Agenda" section of the new White House website. There's an ambitious level of policy in there, and I want to look at it, top to bottom.

Section 1: Civil Rights

There are several general items here, and one large sub-heading with specific agenda items. I'll take each in turn, quoting the relevant sections.

Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

This is a good start. The ruling in question was egregiously bad, basically saying that you have to sue over pay discrimination soon after it is initiated, regardless of when you become aware of it. It was bad law and worse policy in a just society. The fair pay act I'm less enthused about. While it extends equal pay rights beyond gender, it also demands equal pay based on "value" of work in dissimilar jobs. I'm iffier on that proposition -- value of work is often subjective, and I can see where that provision could lead to lawsuit abuse. The ENDA is sound policy, and just a warm-up when compared to what's going to hit farther down the agenda. Rick Warren may regret giving the invocation.

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.

I've never been much of a fan of "hate crime" legislation. I guess I still draw a distinct line between "having hateful motivations" and "infringing on civil rights". While motive is key to prosecution, hate laws edge too close to thoughtcrime for my tastes. You're allowed to be a douchebag racist homophobe, because freedom of speech does not just pertain to the speech we agree with. However, if hate crimes are going to be part of the law, you've got to bring them across the board. Beefing up the DoJ's civil rights division can't hurt, either.

End Deceptive Voting Practices: President Obama will sign into law his legislation that establishes harsh penalties for those who have engaged in voter fraud and provides voters who have been misinformed with accurate and full information so they can vote.
I like this. Honestly, election reform is one of my big issues in general. Here in North Carolina, for example, we have ballots that seem actively designed for undervoting during Presidential elections. Of course, coming from West Virginia, where voter fraud and intimidation is a way of life, I may be occasionally wistful when looking at old-school dirty politics. Mean is fine, in my opinion -- Robert Heinlein covered some great tactics in his story A Bathroom of Her Own, from Expanded Universe. Mean, ugly tactics, but still legal.

End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
All I can say is good luck. Cops have been coming up with excuses on this one for ages, because our legal code is so byzantine that virtually anyone is doing something illegal at any given moment, and that's the cover. Then again, sometimes there's just not enough excuse to possibly cover all the stupid.

Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
A good idea, if it works. Part of the problem in recidivism is that no one wants to hire cons, so they go back to crime to survive. Add to that the idiotic minimum-sentence laws, and our system often turns a nonviolent offender who made a mistake into a much more brutal, nigh-unemployable person coming out. It's a vicious cycle that virtually no one has done any serious work on.

Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
Can't argue here.

Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
Coupled with the item two previous, I think this is a good one. Prisons are no good for rehab, and again feed the cycle of recidivism and escalation.


From here, the Agenda applies to the LGBT community in particular.

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
See above.

Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
I can't argue with this. It's sad that it takes a law to guarantee basic civil rights, but you do what it takes.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
I'm of two minds here. On one hand, this is great; enshrining this right in federal law spanks all the little discriminatory provisions that the small-minded have driven through in the past few years. The DoMA is a piece of silly legislation that wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent on things like the economy, and it was introduced solely to gain favor with a religious base. However, I'm of the opinion that the government should get out of the "marriage" business altogether, or at the very least eliminate the ability of any official outside the government to be the authority granting one. As far as the government is concerned, "marriage" is a binding legal contract that confers certain status and privileges. Fine. Why are clergy involved in this again? I can have a perfectly legal marriage solidified by the county clerk. I'd say that's the definition of a "civil union" right there. as far as the government is concerned, all marriages are "civil unions", in that they are a union of two people under civil law. Now, if a couple feels the need to be joined in "holy matrimony", that's their prerogative. Please do so at the church, temple, or Elvis chapel of your choice. However, if you want any of the legal benefits, you better damn well have certified your civil union with the government. A religious institution should have no say as to who is joined in the eyes of the law, and the law should have no say as to who is joined in the eyes of any god, goddess, tree gnome, or quasi-eternal spirit of the color blue.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
See above. Opposition is the right stance here, but the whole idea is a waste of time.

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Excellent move. "Don't ask-don't tell" an unworkable "compromise" jury-rigged to allow an outdated discriminatory policy to stand in place. Gays are in the military. They always have been, and always will be. The military needs to catch up with the rest of us, and I think we have the environment to get this one rolling fast. I don't know if it'll happen before the midterm elections, but I'd say it'll hit in this four-year span.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
An easy and basic move. Hell, even the courts down in crazy-ass-conservative Florida are seeing the light on this one.

Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
This is under the LGBT heading, but let's face it; AIDS is a universal issue. The rolling back of foolish and shortsighted sex-ed policies from the last eight years will help everyone. So much more than AIDS/HIV is affected; other STDs can be curtailed, unwanted pregnancies reduced (and, hey, right-to-lifers -- guess what the best way to reduce abortions is), and frankly, just having a coherent policy will be a major step.

Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
Okay, I get this one, but I don't know how high-importance it is. I'm not sure how much value this technology really has, as I've never heard of it before. I would assume some sort of gel or applied substance, given that barrier methods already exist. It seems that, even with a microbial barrier, you're still at a lot of risk, given factors like application, wear, time of effectiveness, or any other factor that might apply to a topically applied medicine. As a supplement to other methods of prevention, perhaps -- again, I don't know enough about the product-- but I don't see something like this as being as effective as the methods already available ("No wrap, no ride", and "No"). If there's more to the technology than I seem to know, great, get cracking.


Well, that's the first of the Agenda categories on the new Presidential website. It got me thinking, if nothing else. Take the time to read the whole thing; there's a contact page for policy questions, and an office whose job it is to answer them (an improvement over anything the previous administration had). I've already used it, and I encourage you to, as well. See you back here for my examination of the "Defense" heading.


Other posts in this series can be found at the Agenda Index.