The military led with integration, now leading on clean energy

When the Defense Department published the Quadrennial Defense Review earlier this year, I was struck that they would take such a leadership position on the issue.  While the political right debates whether climate change is in fact occurring, the Defense Department recognized the threat as it is:

“Crafting a strategic approach to climate and energy: Climate change and energy will play significant roles in the future security environment. The Department is developing policies and plans to manage the effects of climate change on its operating environment, missions, and facilities. The Department already performs environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States, working to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals. We must continue incorporating geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes.”

Why would the DoD be taking such a leadership role on climate change?  That’s easy – because the military, unlike the political classes, must actively prepare for the distant future; they must be ready to deal with the consequences:

“Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows… Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”

As a result the DoD committed to “foster efforts to assess, to adapt, and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”  Well we are starting to see the fruits of that effort already.  Apparently, a Marine company just deployed  to the rugged outback of Helmand Province with portable solar panels that fold up into boxes, energy-conserving lights, solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity, and solar chargers for computers and communications equipment. Way to go Marines!!  On top of that, the Navy just introduced a new hybrid warship, the U.S.S. Makin Island, able to run on electricity at speeds of less than 10 kts, more efficiently than on diesel fuel.  The Air Force committed to outfitting their entire fleet for biofuel by 2011. The military pioneered integration in the United States, and the country eventually followed. Now the DoD is pioneering clean energy.  It is time to follow their lead.

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The growing consensus around the 2nd Amendment

In the Navy, I was trained to safely use handguns like this one.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, ruled that the 2nd Amendment applies to state and local laws, as well as federal laws.  Their decision will likely end the handgun ban in Chicago, two years after a similar law was struck down in the District of Columbia.  The ruling is likely the final blow to gun prohibition in this country as a principle.  However, the ruling was not a free for all for gun rights.  In fact, the decision supported reasonable restrictions on gun rights, enough to make the Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke happy:

‘”The crucial part of the ruling today is that it really is fairly narrow,” noting that the court acknowledged gun-control restrictions that fall short of bans. “The one extreme of handgun bans, total gun bans, that’s off the table now. But they’ve also taken the extreme any gun, anywhere, anybody, anytime–that’s off the table too,” Helmke said.’

Now, advocates of strict gun control point out that 258 Chicago public school students were shot last year.  However, those guns were introduced into the city in the midst of the handgun ban, which begs the question of whether prohibition really works. Certainly, a close look at the ‘War on Drugs’ would show you that the war is being lost.  Looking at guns, what level of restriction is reasonable?  A consensus has grown supporting the 2nd Amendment in this country, so much so that both Sarah Palin and Harry Reid applauded yesterday’s ruling.  In fact, Democrats look to benefit politically from this ruling in November.

However, what about the gun show loophole?  Should potential gun owners be required to undergo a background check before purchasing a weapon?  The loophole, where buyers can get guns from private dealers at gun shows, exists.  The NRA argues that the loophole is a ‘myth:’

“Though Congress specifically has applied the background check requirement to dealers only, and specifically exempted from the dealer licensing requirement persons who occasionally sell guns from their personal collections, gun prohibition activists call this a “loophole.” Gun prohibitionists also falsely claim that many criminals get guns from gun shows; the most recent federal study puts the figure at only 0.7 percent.”

Obviously, there is a conflict between the report from ABC and the NRA legislative wing.  There is no doubt that the NRA would be tickled pink if all gun laws were struck down.  However, the consensus around the 2nd Amendment does not go as far as the NRA fantasizes.  Most people would support reasonable restrictions.

Anyone who has watched the Wire has no illusions about gun restrictions keeping guns away from criminals.  In fact, gun laws are often used as valid charges to arrest criminals by police.  Any gun regulation should make it a sensible process to buy and sell weapons.   However, there should also be enforceable restrictions, requiring background checks, that are reasonable.  Education on gun safety should be part of that restriction.

I grew up in Northwest Pennsylvania, and underwent hunter safety training in middle school.  Guns were very common in that rural community, but it was clear to me at a young age that they were dangerous and needed to be handled the right way.  Later, in the Navy, I was responsible for many weapons, and their safe use.  We conducted lots and lots of training for the folks who had to bear those weapons on watch.  In the Navy, when weapons were taken for granted, the conditions for misuse were created.  That is why training and education are so crucial.

At the end of the day, while some will look at yesterday’s Supreme Court decision as a victory for gun owners and the NRA, I look at it as a reflection of the growing consensus around reasonable restriction.  Like abortion and other emotional issues, there will always be zealots on both sides.  However, as Politico observes, the decision removes those zealots from the decision making process in November.


Will Republicans Fillibuster DADT?

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 234-194 to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the 1993 law that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.  The Senate Armed Services comittee voted 16-12 to send a similar bill to the floor of the Senate.  Olympia Snowe, one of the few moderate Republicans remaining alive, was the only Republican to support the bill in committee.  John McCain, ex-Maverick of Arizona, made his views on the bill clear:

“I think it’s really going to be very harmful to the morale and effectiveness of our military.”

Of course, while campaigning for the Presidency, McCain pledged he would listen to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; once they were ready for change, he would support repeal.  Admiral Mullen, the Chairman, gave a stirring statement of support for repeal. Mullen does not underestimate the ability of today’s military to adapt to new policy.  From my experience as a Naval Officer, DADT was a disaster; I knew people who were personally affected by it, and without question it reduces our readiness.  However, McCain came of age in a different America.  He cannot imagine a military allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.  Well, the Navy is finally going to allow women on Submarines, another restriction that was long defended because of ‘readiness.’  There was never going to be an easy time to make that change, and there is never going to be an easy time to repeal DADT.

The bill would not go into immediate effect, but after an ongoing policy study is completed, and after the Pentagon and the White House approve the new policy; basically, sometime next year.  Republicans want to wait, but what they want to wait for is not the completion of the study, but rather the fall election, when they will pick up a few Senate seats.