Six years ago, German police searched a U.S. Army staff sergeant’s apartment and discovered video of the solider having sex with a woman while another man “physically participat[ed] in the sexual activity.” Although the sex was consensual, a court-martial convicted the soldier of “committing an indecent act with another.” Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces affirmed this conviction.
Had the participants in this video been civilians, there is little question that their actions would have been protected by the Constitution under the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which prohibits criminalizing private, non-commercial sexual activity involving consenting adults. The court explained, however, that service members rights under Lawrence are not as broad as the rights of civilians:
No one disagrees that wholly private and consensual sexual activity, without more, falls within Lawrence. But that does not answer the altogether different question whether permitting a third party to observe and memorialize one’s sexual activity on videotape is categorically protected as “wholly private and consensual sexual activity” where the trier of fact has deemed the conduct to be prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces and service discrediting. We hold that, under the circumstances of this case, it is not.
This case presents fairly unusual facts — most people do not videotape themselves engaged in threesomes — and the court’s reasoning is closely tied to the unusual facts of the case. Nevertheless, it does provide a warning to Americans in the military that their sexual liberties under the Constitution are less robust than the rights of civilians.
The worst direct impacts to humans from our unsustainable use of energy — over the next few decades — will, I think, be Dust-Bowlification and extreme weather and food insecurity: Hell and High Water.
But all of the impacts occurring at once will have an even more devastating synergy (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts“). This means the rich countries will be far less likely to be offering much assistance to the poorer ones, since there will be ever worsening catastrophes everywhere simultaneously so we’ll be suffering at the same time. Heck, the deep economic downturn and the record-smashing disasters of the past three years has already exacerbated media myopia and compassion fatigue to help those around the world staggered by floods and droughts.
And that suggests another deadly climate impact — far more difficult to project quantitatively because there is no paleoclimate analog — may well affect far more people both directly and indirectly: war, conflict, competition for arable and/or habitable land.
We will have to work as hard as possible to make sure we don’t leave a world of wars to our children. That means avoiding decades if not centuries of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change. That also means finally ending our addiction to oil, a source — if not the source — of two of our biggest recent wars.
In November 2011, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “said rising temperatures and rainwater shortages are having a devastating effect on food production. Failing to address the problem will have repercussions on health, security and stability.”
Last week, Tom Friedman described how warming-worsened drought has exacerbated political instability even now in Syria. His must-read piece “Without Water, Revolution” explains:
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.
I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.
Warming-worsened drought is causing problems all around the Mediterranean:
NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. [Click to enlarge.]
But, obviously, the poorer a country is — and the worse it is governed — the more warming-worsened drought is likely to drive instability:
By Shiva Polefka and Michael Conathan, Guest Blogger on May 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm
Fleet Composite Squadron 6 conducts boat operations off coast of Naval Station Norfolk, VA. (Credit: U.S. Navy)
Yesterday Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, revealed newfound support for oil and gas exploration off the Commonwealth’s coast. The Washington Post reported that he now backs legislation sponsored by Virginia’s Democratic U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine that would open offshore areas to oil and gas exploration.
Offshore oil drilling is viewed by Virginia politicians on bothsides of the aisle as a budgetary panacea, in part because of the economic activity drilling would create, but perhaps more so because the Warner-Kaine bill would direct a portion of drilling royalties back into the commonwealth’s coffers. But the bottom line is that any development carries with it massive risk to the state’s environment and the current economic drivers that rely on healthy and accessible oceans and coasts.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis of Virginia’s tourism industry reported that the sector supports more than 200,000 jobs, yielding an economic impact of more than $20 billion in 2011, and that Virginia’s beaches alone attracted nearly 10 percent of the state’s tourists. Virginia’s coast and ocean also support thriving fisheries; in 2011 fishermen landed 247,000 tons of seafood in Virginia, worth more than $191 million, ranking it the third largest seafood producer in the country by weight.
As Gulf Coast states painfully learned in 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, offshore drilling accidents can devastate robust tourism industries, the health of marine ecosystems, and both the productivity and the reputation of the marine fisheries supported by those ecosystems. Unfortunately, Congress has so far failed to pass any reforms to reduce the risk of spills or blowouts, meaning the few regulatory reforms made by the Department of the Interior to improve offshore drilling safety in the aftermath of the Gulf spill could be rolled back by a future administration.
Drilling offshore Virginia would also be incompatible with another vital activity carried out along the state’s coast — keeping our nation safe. Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval complex in the world, is one of the state’s primary economic engines, supporting more than 71,000 military and civilian employees. Overall the Navy was responsible for more nearly $15 billion in economic impact in Virginia in fiscal year 2009.
In 2010 the US Department of Defense determined that 74 percent of the areas eyed for oil and gas leasing offshore Virginia would directly interfere with the extensive military activities that are carried out in the region, including ordnance training and aircraft carrier operations. As Virginia Representative James Moran put it, “When you come down to it, the Navy’s operations are much more important to the Virginia economy, let alone national security, than … drilling operations.”
Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military still does not allow people who are transgender to serve. Still, many people only transition after they’ve completed their service, creating complications for their continued receipt of benefits. Now, the Pentagon has recognized its first gender change for a military veteran and established a process — albeit a bit burdensome one — for future trans vets to do the same.
Blogger and activist Autumn Sandeen was informed earlier this month that the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) has been updated to show her gender as female. Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen provided the following statement to BuzzFeed:
For the last several years, the Department has made requested changes to gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) for military retirees. A gender change in DEERS may be accomplished by the retiree presenting the following documents:
- A letter from the doctor who performed the surgery, documenting completion of a gender reassignment surgery
- A court order, legally changing the gender in accordance with applicable state law
- An original birth certificate
- A document, reflecting the sponsor’s name and if applicable, gender following completion of the gender reassignment procedure for a spouse
The Department will not change a gender in DEERS if it results in a loss of benefits to the spouse of the retired member due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The last point is noteworthy, in that the military is committed to making sure retirees receive spousal benefits without conflicting with the limitations of DOMA.
Still, as Sandeen points out on her own post, the hurdles for the gender change are somewhat extensive. The requirement that a trans person complete gender reassignment surgery is problematic because not all trans people want to get such surgery — particularly given sterilization is a consequence — and many cannot afford it. Further, the required birth certificate change is simply not allowed in all states.
Clearly, there are still many changes that need to made to allow trans people full inclusion in military service and the associated benefits, but this is a step in the right direction.
The military’s sexual assault crisis has been in the headlines consistently for the past two weeks, leading two members of Congress to call on President Obama to take executive action and fix it.
Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 earlier this year to help the victims of sexual assault receive benefits once they leave the military. At present, the burden of proof for victims of rape and sexual assault to qualify for disability benefits for conditions related to their trauma, including treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, is shockingly high, leaving many men and women unable to receive the care they need. A scheduled hearing on the bill was meant to take place on Wednesday, but has instead been delayed until June 3.
Rather than waiting for the Ruth Moore Act to pass, the bill’s sponsors sent Obama a letter on Thursday calling on him to use his authority as president to act now:
We commend your willingness to work with Congress to address the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. However, given the increasing rate of these assaults and the dramatic implications they are having on our service members, veterans, and their families, we strongly urge you to take further action to confront this crisis. In particular, you have the ability to provide justice for thousands of survivors of service-related sexual trauma by calling for more fairness in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims process, and increasing their ability to access the benefits they desperately need. [...]
Our legislation continues to garner support in Congress and has been endorsed by every major veterans’ service organization. Legislation, however, is not necessary to keep faith with these veterans. In 2010, the VA relaxed evidentiary standards to make it easier for combat veterans suffering from PTSD to get the disability benefits they need. It is past time the VA make a similar regulatory change for MST survivors. And you can direct them to do so.
Sexual assault and rape culture in the military has reached a tipping point in the last two weeks, with multiple stories about officials in positions to prevent assaults being charged or investigated for sexual assault themselves. “We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Thursday. “That’s a crisis.” Read more
Ahead of possible major actions from the Pentagon and Congress on sexual assault in the military, the U.S. Army is forced to confront yet another instance of a member of the armed forces involved in a shocking sexual assault scandal.
In the latest incident, the Department of Defense revealed on Tuesday a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army stationed at the Ft. Hood, TX military base is under investigation for sexual assault. Along with allegedly sexually assaulting two of his peers, the the sergeant is being investigated for possibly forcing a subordinate into prostitution. Making matters even worse, the soldier under investigation was assigned as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program coordinator for an eight-hundred person battalion stationed at the base.
The investigation draws a parallel to a case just last week in which the head of the entire Air Force’s sexual assault response program was himself charged with sexual battery in Arlington, VA. No charges have yet been filed against the individual at Ft. Hood, but Pentagon spokesman George Little issued a statement about DOD’s response to yet another alleged instance of rape culture in the military:
I cannot convey strongly enough [Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's] frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.
Secretary Hagel met with Army Secretary McHugh this morning and directed him to fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations, and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.
To address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events, Secretary Hagel is directing all the services to re-train, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.
Lawmakers quickly lined up to add their voices to the long list of those condemning the latest outrage and sexual assault in the military writ large. “These allegations only add to the mounting evidence of the need to change our military justice system to better hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors of sexual assault,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said in a statement. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) head of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement he was “outraged and disgusted” by the latest reports from Ft. Hood, pointing to his own granddaughter in the Army and the “feelings of worry and doubt” many feel when family members join the service.
Much as last week’s case came just days ahead of the Pentagon releasing its annual report on sexual assault in the armed services, Tuesday’s story broke with major implications for the military on the horizon. Wednesday is the deadline for branches of the armed services to provide their plans for how to integrate women into combat units to the Pentagon. Last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters that the move could help reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military in the long-run as “the more we treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.” Read more
Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth (Credit: Politico)
On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning, two female Iraq War veterans currently serving their first terms in Congress sharply criticized the military for its failure to address the increasing number of cases of sexual assault within its ranks.
Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) — who continue to serve in their reserve unites now that they have been elected to public office — are advocating for a measure that would remove sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command. As the two Congressmembers explained to host Candy Crowley, changing the way that the military currently handles rape cases would empower women to speak up without fear of repercussion from their commanders, as well as ensure that their complaints are handled objectively and fairly.
The Pentagon has traditionally opposed dealing with sexual assault complaints outside of the traditional chain of command. But, according to Duckworth and Gabbard, that drastic change is necessary because the military leadership has failed to adequately diffuse the victim-blaming rape culture that pervades the male-dominated armed forces:
DUCKWORTH: It’s absolutely unacceptable, Candy. I want the military to be a place where women can succeed and thrive the way I was able to. And the military leadership at this point have shown that they have not been capable of fixing this problem.
GABBARD: There are no excuses. It’s not enough just to say this is not something we’ll stand for, we’ll hold these people accountable unless you’re providing a system and process to actually do that. And I think there are two things we really need to look at. What is the core reason why this hasn’t really gotten better over the years? One being we have to make sure it’s a victim-centered response, from the moment the victim makes that report all the way through to the point where the perpetrator is prosecuted, charged, and punished. And secondly, making sure we are investigating those who are retaliating and abusing their positions of command or power.
DUCKWORTH: This issue is a power issue, it’s not a sex issue… The military, because it’s built on power and rank, has the ability to fix it based on that same tradition of power and rank. Commanders can put an end to this. And I am very, very disturbed that they have not been able to do this… We need to do something and we need to come up with a different system.
Duckworth and Gabbard agreed that the current sexual assault crisis signals that the military justice system has failed women. Ultimately, Duckworth explained, “this goes back to empowering the female service members to stand up, to know that when they speak up that they will be listened to and they will be treated fairly.”
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released a report that revealed there were an estimated 26,000 incidents of sexual assault in the military last year, as well as an alarming spike in sexual crimes that went unreported. President Obama called the rate of sexual crimes in the U.S. military “an outrage” and pledged to stand with victims of sexual assault. “I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs. I will support them,” Obama said. “And we’re not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability.”
Late yesterday, we finally got our first look at the long-awaited movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card’s novel about the child soldiers trained to fight in a war against alien invaders. The movie looks visually impressive, and there’s no denying the appeal of its cast, which includes Asa Butterfield as potential military genius Ender Wiggin, Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, the administrator of the Battle School in which Ender is enrolled, Haileen Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian, one of Ender’s classmates, Viola Davis as Major Gwen Anderson, one of Graff’s colleagues, Abigail Breslin as Ender’s sister Valentine, and Ben Kingsley as Ender’s teacher Mazer Rackham. But the trailer also leaves out five key elements of Card’s novel—and the decision to exclude them in favor of action sequences gives a sense of what kind of movie Summit Entertainment wants us to think Ender’s Game will be:
1. Peter Wiggin: Ender’s sadistic older brother, Peter was the first of three attempts to breed a perfect general from the Wiggin family. Because Peter was too aggressive, and Valentine too empathetic, Ender’s family was allowed to have him as a third child in defiance of the United States’ population laws. Peter viciously bullied Ender while the two of them were growing up, and after went to Battle School, enlisted Valentine in a scheme to gain political power through an early form of blogging. He’s a painful illustration of the price of greatness, and one of the key people through whom Ender’s Game explores international politics in the wake of alien attacks.
2. The Fantasy Game: We see the children in Battle School playing with powerful simulations on computers, but we don’t get a glimpse of one of the novel’s most interesting devices: a video game that’s personally tailored to each student’s experience, and that Battle School uses to monitor their mental health.
3. Alai and Bean: Two of Ender’s best friends at Battle School are Alai, a talented Muslim student, and Bean, a younger boy who comes under Ender’s command as he rises through the ranks of students. Alai, who begins as Ender’s equal, is a reminder of how the drive for excellence can alienate even your closest friends. And Bean is an illustration of how to bring out the excellence in someone else.
4. Bernard: And just as we’re missing Ender’s friends, the trailer doesn’t show us Ender’s greatest human enemy at Battle School, a French student named Bernard. There’s no question that the advertising for Ender’s Game has to outline the main conflict between humans and the Buggers, the pejorative name for the alien invaders. But it’s losing a lot of Card’s point if the movie forgets that the conflicts between humans are just as important as space opera.
5. The Net: Much of Ender’s Game is set at Battle School, but the story back on Earth, where Peter and Valentine become powerful political commentators on the Net, Card’s version of the Internet, is equally important. The Cold War between the United States and its allies and the countries aligned under the Warsaw Pact has an enormous influence on Battle School’s commanders and the way they push Ender and pace his training. And Peter and Valentine’s very different feelings about the influence they accrue offers an important contrast to Ender’s command of his troops far away in space.
Now, I assume most of these elements will appear in the finished film that we’re going to get in November. Peter, Alai, Bean, and Bernard all are in the cast list. Major Anderson is the character who oversees the Fantasy Game. But given that much of the power of Ender’s Game comes from the fact that the war on the Buggers takes a surprising turn, and the question of whether humanity wins or loses it becomes much less important than issues of psychology and ethics. I understand why Summit feels more confident selling audiences who aren’t familiar with Card’s work on a major space war than on a meditation on empathy. But I hope that the film itself stays true to the best, most penetrating aspects of Card’s work, and the trailers are as much of a bait and switch as the one Ender’s subjected to throughout the novel.
Just one day after the Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested for sexual assault himself, a new Pentagon report shows a sharp increase in the estimated number of assaults in the military annually.
The disparity in the total number of instances of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) compared to those fully reported — where the victim fills out an official report and action is taken — can be seen as being due to victims’ fears of retaliation, including possible discharge from service or being overlooked for a promotion. The new results line up with those seen in a 2011 Pentagon health survey released in April. According to that report, more female service members were willing to come forward about sexual abuse and assault, with roughly one in five women saying they were victims of unwanted sexual contact from another member of the military, but under reporting remains a serious issue.
“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement released Monday night in reponse to news that Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the Air Forces’s chief of sexual assault prevention, had been arrested on charges of sexual assault. “The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military.”
Despite that pledge, assault and abuse in the military has been under increased scrutiny in recent months, following a series of high-profile scandals. In February, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was reinstated into service after an Air Force general overturned a jury, voiding Wilkerson’s sexual assault conviction. In 2012, Lackland Air Force base saw 12 instructors investigated for sexual misconduct toward 31 trainees, with at least one trainer sentenced to twenty years for rape and sexual assault. Army Gen. Jeffery Sinclair was likewise charged in 2012 with sexually assaulting a female subordinate, then threatening her career if she went public. Read more
Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski's booking photo (Credit: ARLnow.com)
The officer in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s response to sexual assault was himself arrested for sexual battery this weekend, drawing attention yet again to the extent of rape culture in the armed services.
Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski is accused of assaulting a woman in an Arlington, VA, parking lot early Sunday morning. According to the police report of the incident, Krusinski approached the woman in question after a night of drinking:
On May 5 at 12:35 am, a drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, VA, was arrested and charged with sexual battery. He was held on a $5,000 unsecured bond.
Krusinski is the head of the Air Force’s branch of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, a Department of Defense initiative to combat sexual assault in the ranks. A spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed to local blog ARLnow.com the man described in the police report is in fact Lt. Col. Krusinski, but gave no further comment. ARLNow also confirmed that the woman and Krusinski did not know each other prior to the encounter.
The Air Force’s response to sexual violence was last scrutinized following a controversial case involving an Air Force general overturning a jury’s sexual assault conviction. That case launched a review of the military’s approach to cases involving sexual assault, resulting in Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sending Congress a series of recommendations for them to pass into law. As it stands, however, an estimated 19,000 instances of sexual assault occurred in 2011 alone.