In 1994, the company I was running, ApolloMedia, purchased the electronic rights to â€œConduct Unbecoming,â€ the journalistic masterpiece written by the late Randy Shilts that provided the most comprehensive to date overview of gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military.
Released in 1995, rich with photographs, video and complementary documents and articles, the CD-ROM contained ePost, the first ever technological tool enabling users to find, and communicate directly with, their elected representatives (through email for the few who had it back then, or by fax, simply by typing in your zip code). Rolling Stone magazine called Conduct Unbecoming “a political statement” and â€œan evolutionary CD-ROM.â€
In the course of the production, we met and interviewed a small but dedicated organization that had formed a couple of years earlier, founded by attorneys Michelle Benecke and Dixon Osburn. In a very short time they had already become an invaluable resource for servicemembers becoming dangerously ensnared in the newly implemented, vague, unconstitutional â€œDonâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€ (DADT) policy, providing, in addition to life-saving information, free, confidential, high quality legal service.
The language of the policy, which among manyÂ insidiousÂ things, failed to distinguish between content and conduct. Saying you were gay wasÂ indistinguishable from being gay, and being gay wasÂ indistinguishable from engaging in same sex conduct. Even if you were a celibate, virgin who had never been touched.Â The very CD-ROM we were producing, if caught in the possession of a servicemember, would be more than enough to trigger an investigation and lead to a discharge under the DADT policy. (The Navy attempted to block release of the CD-ROM itself.)
Stretched for resources as word of their existence spread, a mechanism was needed to enable them to communicate as much information as possible to as many servicemembers possible. They also needed to communicate with the media, who had become reliant on them to provide accurate information as to what was happening under the policy.
And so in 1995, we built them a website, establishing them as among the first of pioneering non-profit organizations to turn to the Internet as more than simply a static, electronic marketing brochure. The information, advice and warnings on the website provided invaluable assistance to those finding the vague tenets of the policy almost impossible to navigate.
The organization — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) — proved to be a lifeline to countless servicemembers. Having responded to over 11,000 requests for assistance to date, SLDN was a powerful and primary player in the repeal of DADT, and remains a critical resource in a post-DADT military environment, still worthy of support.
On January 12, 2012, SLDN launched a new online toolkit to assist veterans discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) or the prior regulations prohibiting gay and lesbian service in the military seeking changes to their discharge paperwork.
“Since repeal, word has spread rapidly about this opportunity, and our attorneys have experienced a surge in calls from veterans seeking our services. This toolkit will streamline the process for them and help us get results for them more quickly. We urge anyone interested in this assistance to contact our office and let us help,” said SLDN Legal Director David McKean in a SLDN press release.
According to SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, more than 100 gay and lesbian veterans who were discharged under DADT have already sought to have their discharge paperwork changed or upgraded.
â€œSometimes it’s for reasons of personal pride and setting the record straight about honorable service to our country. But often, there’s also a very practical reason, like urgently needed VA medical benefits or issues of employment. Employers routinely request discharge paperwork when reviewing job applicants who have prior military service. A narrative reason for separation of ‘homosexuality’ or a negative reentry code can mean forcing veterans to out themselves to future employers or being denied employment altogether,” Jarvis stated in a SLDN press release.
In September 2011, Melvin Dwork, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy and was discharged in 1944 for being gay was able to upgrade his discharge paperwork owing to SLDNâ€™s assistance.
As the organization continues its valuable work and continues to use technology in pursuit of its formidable goals and objectives, I feel privileged to have worked with Michelle Benecke and Disxon Osburn, who quickly saw the resource value of a website beyond a simple fund-raising vehicle. From the outset, SLDN served as an online destination that could save careers and in some cases, even lives.
Our collaborative efforts relating to the development of the web site allowed us to explore and innovate privacy solutions that were virtually non-existent, so that accessing the site wouldn’tÂ compromiseÂ theÂ identityÂ of its visitors. A site that made (and continues making) life better for servicemembers who served their country with honor; setting legalÂ precedentsÂ that ultimately led to DADT’s demise; and restoring the respect and dignity they so richly deserved.
As SLDN prepares to celebrate is 20th anniversary this year, the release of their new online Discharge Upgrade kit suggests the organization will continue to build and innovate on its strong foundations and technological legacy.
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-â€‹known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoyâ€‹.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, â€œa nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.â€ Feinâ€™s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newmanâ€™s Own First Amendment Award.
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‘Bioweapons? FFS’: House Oversight Chairman Mocked for Pushing Unfounded Balloon Conspiracy Theories
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer is pushing baseless conspiracy theories about the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon floating over the United States – currently, over Montana – that the Pentagon is tracking, and he’s being widely mocked for his unfounded fear-mongering.
Fox News host Harris Faulkner set the stage perfectly for the far-right Republican from Kentucky, declaring the balloon is “the size of three buses” and that “China says was taken by wind – wind that we can’t substantiate.”
The Kentucky congressman who has falsely described President Biden as “compromised,” and stated he is going to target and investigate him, told Faulkner, “I have concern this is going to be another example of the Biden administration’s weakness on the national scale.”
Comer, 50, a former agriculture commissioner, lamented about Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, claiming it hurt the reputation of America’s military and Commander in Chief.
The balloon, he said, should “never have been allowed” to cross over into the United States.
“My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” he asked, pushing unfounded theories while echoing the far-right’s false claims the COVID-19 virus was developed as a bioweapon and escaped the lab in Wuhan, China.
After suggesting it might have bioweapons, he then said it was “very concerning” the balloon was not shot down before reaching the U.S. – which could have spread the alleged bioweapon.
Faulkner, seen by some as a propagandist, then jumped in to exhibit her surprise that “people on Capitol Hill were not briefed” about the balloon.
“Calling for the president to ‘shoot down’ the craft,” The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona adds, “some in the GOP called the president ‘Beijing Biden’ while claiming this is further proof that ‘Communist China’ doesn’t ‘fear or respect’ Biden.”
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer to Fox News: “My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” pic.twitter.com/0r9JmBl4zo
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 3, 2023
“Honestly,” communications strategist Doug Gordon noted, “just surprised he didn’t find a way to include Hunter’s laptop into that conspiracy theory.”
“Actually, he did later on,” Baragona replied.
National security expert Denver Riggleman, the Republican former U.S. Congressman from Virginia who assisted the Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, tweeted: “Bioweapons? FFS”
Referring to Comer’s unfounded bioweapons claim, one Twitter user observed, “Isn’t that more reason not to shoot at it? I’m not saying I know what to do, but logic would dictate ‘don’t shoot at balloons full of bioweapons.’ Right?”
Another noted that the Oversight Chairman should have been listening to the Pentagon’s briefing “taking place now instead of running to get on Fox to talk about something he has no expertise in.”
Another, mocking Comer, noted: “If they were sending a bio weapon, why would they park it over sparsely populated Montana? *rolls eyes*”
Watch the video above or at this link.
Trump Spent 2020 Attacking Ballot Drop Boxes – but Now He’s Demanding They Be Deployed in Churches
Donald Trump laid the groundwork early in the 2020 election for his possible defeat by attacking voting by mail and ballot drop boxes, insisting they should be illegal while making clear if he lost the White House those proven safe and effective means of voting would be to blame.
But now, with a flailing 2024 campaign the failed ex-president who is under multiple investigations is demanding ballot drop boxes be deployed – but only in churches.
“Some states use ‘drop boxes’ for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots,” Trump tweeted in August of 2020. “So who is going to ‘collect’ the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country. Only Absentee Ballots acceptable!”
That was just one of his many attacks on drop boxes.
“So now the Democrats are using Mail Drop Boxes, which are a voter security disaster,” Trump tweeted just days later. “Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. Also, who controls them, are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitized. A big fraud!”
The tweet was so false Twitter appended a warning label to it that reads: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about civic and election integrity.”
Fast forward to now.
On his social media platform Trump reposted a “truth” (the word Truth Social uses instead of “tweet”) from far-right activist, conspiracy theorist, and provocateur Jack Posobiec. Posobiec was “one of the most prominent promoters of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, that held that the Washington D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was really a front for a child sex dungeon run by Hillary Clinton. He even went to the restaurant to find out ‘what’s really going on’ there,” according to The Daily Beast.
“In 2017, BuzzFeed reported text messages suggesting that Posobiec held a ‘Rape Melania’ sign during an anti-Trump protest in an apparent attempt to discredit the protesters as insidious and deranged.”
Thursday, on Trump’s Truth Social platform, Posobiec wrote: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but Republicans should put ballot drop boxes in the back of churches in every state where it’s legal.”
Hours later Trump was all over the idea, demanding the Republican National Committee implement it.
“Best idea I’ve heard in a long time,” Trump wrote in all-caps, “put them all over the place. RNC, every Republican, get to work on this now!!!”
Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias’ Democracy Docket platform just last week reported that in 2020, “Trump first attacked mail-in voting itself, then tried to undermine the postal service’s ability to handle the volume of ballots. Soon after, he began to target drop boxes as well.”
As Trump learned, making it more difficult to vote is not a winning strategy, unless you’re highly unpopular and can block a significant number of your opponents’ votes while retaining your own, which he did not.
But the GOP sure tried.
“Republicans in many states soon followed Trump’s lead and began restricting the deployment of drop boxes even if the state had previously used them without controversy. [Ohio] Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) limited each county to a single drop box no matter how populous. Similarly, the Texas Supreme Court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) order limiting every county to a single ballot drop-off location — from Loving County (population of 64 people) to Harris County (population of 4.7 million people). In other states, Republicans moved to ban drop boxes entirely, and Missouri officials decided against deploying 80 boxes the state had already purchased,” Democrat Docket adds.
Meanwhile, Trump’s – or rather, Posobiec’s – strategy is clear: “Republicans should put ballot drop boxes in the back of churches,” because Trump thinks he still owns the Christian vote, despite attacking “disloyal” evangelical leaders just weeks ago.
But drop boxes are largely the purview of state election officials, and there would be a strong case to make again putting drop boxes only in churches. What about other houses of worship? And why just houses of worship – are they more secure than other areas?
Some might think it’s difficult to flip-flop on such a basic idea as drop boxes, especially if you went to court to void voters’ ballots that were deposited in them.
“In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign sued to invalidate the use of drop boxes in the primary election and prevent their use in the general election,” Democracy Docket adds. “Then after the election, Republicans pointed to drop boxes as a reason to question the results in a lawsuit filed in Michigan.”
Now that Trump has succeeded in ensuring Ronna McDaniel remains head of the RNC, this will be a test of his strength, or lack thereof.
‘Breathtaking’: Economists Stunned by Job Growth ‘Boom’ as Unemployment Drops to Level Not Seen Since 1969
The year was 1969: Congress certified the results of the election, officially declaring Richard Nixon would be the 37th President of the United States, Joe Namath led the New York Jets to win Super Bowl III, The Beatles released the soundtrack from their hit film “Yellow Submarine,” and unemployment was 3.4%.
It’s been 54 years since unemployment was at 3.4%, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released January’s report Friday morning, stunning economists who expected unemployment to go up, not down.
Economists projected 187,000 new jobs would be added to the U.S. economy in January. Instead, the number came in at 517,000, Forbes reported. Prior months were also adjusted to be better than first reported.
“This is a breathtaking number. That spike in stories about layoffs? It was about a small unrepresentative slice of the economy. Real America is still getting back to work,” crowed Professor Justin Wolfers, the popular University of Michigan School of Economics professor, a senior fellow at Brookings.
“Average job growth over the past 3 months is a cracking +356k. A boom!” Wolfers cheered.
“We haven’t seen unemployment this low since before Woodstock, baby,” he added. “Groovy.”
Wolfers wasn’t done. He blasted those who continue to talk about recession: “This is a final nail in the coffin of all the 2022 recessionistas. When average job growth is this high we call it a BOOM.”
For those who just want the bottom line, Wolfers offered this take on the jobs report: “It’s all good news.”
“January marked the 25th straight month of solid job growth,” The Washington Post reports, observing that the “labor market shattered expectations.” The Post adds: “the labor market remains formidable, inflation is beginning to normalize and there are signs that the global economy may be on stronger footing than originally feared.”
Image: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy, Thursday, January 26, 2023, at Steamfitters Local 602 United Association Mechanical Trades School in Springfield, Virginia. Official White House Photo by Erin Scott via Flickr
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