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Bill would prevent Trump's ban on transgender troops

2019-Feb-08By: Barry Shatzman

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives would allow people with gender dysphoria to serve in the Armed Forces.

Of course they still would be required to meet the same qualifications as any military member.

The ban proposed in March 2018 has yet to take effect, as an injunction remains in place in one challenge. The Supreme Court must wait for a federal appeals court to consider that challenge before it can decide whether to lift that final injunction.

The Coast Guard has said it would not enforce the ban unless compelled to.

Supreme Court paves way for military transgender ban

2019-Jan-22  (Updated: 2019-Feb-08)By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration to move toward implementing its proposed ban of transgender military members.

Federal courts had issued injunctions on the ban - preventing the administration from implementing the ban until cases against it could be resolved. The Supreme Court lifted some of those injunctions.

The ban still cannot be immediately implemented because there still is one case a lower court must consider before the Supreme Court will act on it. Should they lift that final injunction, the Department of Defense (DoD) will be allowed to enforce the ban.

The ban then would remain in place unless federal courts rule it unconstitutional or the DoD enacts a new policy.

This is how the Supreme Court voted:

Government can't account for nuclear weapons material

2018-Jul-27By: Barry Shatzman

The U.S. government doesn't know where all its plutonium - a key element in nuclear weapons - is.

Being that it's so dangerous, plutonium is tightly monitored from the moment it's produced. But over the years, much has gone missing or stolen.

Nuclear material for the military, such as plutonium and highly-enriched uranium, is managed and monitored by the Department of Energy (DOE). It accounts for more than 80 percent of nuclear material produced. But the management of it has been lax.

A 2009 DOE audit and a 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study reported...

o The DOE could not fully account for nuclear materials loaned to domestic facilities such as universities.

o When the DOE could not account for certain nuclear materials, it simply wrote them off.

o The DOE had not contacted facilities who had requested DOE assistance to help them return nuclear material they no longer needed.

o Out of 77 foreign facilities and reactors that were slated for physical protection upgrades - 22 failed to receive those upgrades.

o The U.S. has never inventoried the plutonium loaned to other nations.

o 11 sites that hold more than 4 tons of U.S. highly-enriched uranium had not been visited by U.S. agencies in more than 20 years.

How much is missing?

Nuclear material can go missing at virtually any stage in its life cycle - from production to storage to research centers to disposal - as well as in transit.

Since the Cold War, the government has declared more than 5 tons of nuclear material to be Material Unaccounted For (MUF).

The 2009 DOE audit was the most recent time plutonium that was transferred to universities, commercial companies, and government agencies was accounted for. It found enough highly-enriched uranium and plutonium missing to produce at least five nuclear bombs.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has documented almost 300 malicious attempts to acquire nuclear material between 1993 and 2016.

DOE plans to withhold data from nuclear safety board

2018-Jul-22  (Updated: 2018-Jul-25)By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is making it harder for the agency that monitors nuclear safety to monitor nuclear safety.

A Department of Energy (DOE) directive imposes restrictions on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) - including its ability to access sensitive information such as how much radiation workers are exposed to.

The directive also could reduce transparency by the board - ordering that DOE officials "speak with one voice" to the board. Under the Trump administration, DOE employees are required to take an anti-leak class.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees also take the class.

Would it matter?

This is not entirely new. The Barack Obama administration's DOE removed several reporting requirements for incidents - including "near-miss" accidents.

Since 2015, the board's main function has been to provide regular reports of safety concerns at nuclear facilities. Excerpts from recent reports include...

o "(The contractor) placed the facility in shutdown mode when a high vibration condition could not be cleared on the recirculation pump. Contrary to the alarm response procedure, the facility operators ran the pump for a substantial period of time with the high vibration alarm activated." (2018-June-29 Hanford, WA).

o "These elevated radiological readings exceed the contamination levels in the WIPP waste acceptance criteria (WAC)." (2018-July-6 Carlsbad, NM)

The last time the board acted on a recommendation was to rescind its Emergency Preparedness and Response recommendation in September 2017 because of the DOE's "ineffective implementation and oversight of emergency preparedness and response requirements at defense nuclear facilities".

Because the DNFSB was created as an independent agency by Congress, the DOE technically can not strip it of any powers Congress has given it. But its ability to discover and report safety issues with the management of nuclear materials still can be hampered if the DOE refuses to provide it information.

Trump proposes creating Space Force

2018-Jun-18  (Updated: 2018-Jul-12)By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump announced he wants to create a sixth branch of the military - the Space Force.

"I'm hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces. That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force - separate but equal. It's going to be something."

He originally mentioned it as a joke...

"I was saying it the other day - 'cause we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space - I said, maybe we need a new force. We'll call it the space force. And I was not really serious. And then I said, what a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that. That could happen. That could be the big, breaking story."

Trump now says a separate Space Force is needed to ensure "American dominance in space." Roles the new branch would play currently are the responsibility of the Air Force.

Such a move is not unprecedented. The Air Force was formed from the Army after World War 1, when aviators argued that Army management could not understand their functions and needs.

None of this means there ever will be a separate Space Force, as only Congress can create a new military branch.

New policy would ban most transgender troops

2018-Mar-23By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration initiated a new policy to effectively ban transgender people from joining the military.

The policy comes from a directive from President Trump to the Department of Defense to provide a policy recommendation. It replaces Trump's announcement on Twitter that all transgendered people be banned from serving.

Differences effectively in terminology only

The new policy does not explicitly disqualify transgender people from serving, Rather, it disqualifies those with gender dysphoria - a medical disorder for those who experience depression, anxiety, or other issues related to the gender they were assigned at birth. There is much overlap between the two.

Under the policy....

o Transgender people without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria would be allowed to serve.

o They would be required to serve as the gender assigned to them at birth.

o Anyone who has undergone gender transition would be excluded from enlisting.

Transgender people already serving under Obama administration policy would be allowed to continue serving under the rules.

DoD reasons contradict DoD's own data

The Department of Defense (DoD) memo does not cite specific problems that have been encountered with transgender troops. It cites issues such as currently existing physical restrictions that someone who has undergone gender transition could not adhere to, ability to deploy, and increased medical costs.

An analysis of the memo by the Palm Center research institute addresses each point - pointing out where the DoD memo either was disingenuous or deliberately false.

Just a few examples...

o The DoD report claims that a history of chest surgery or hormone therapy automatically disqualifies anyone for enlistment. The DoD is misstating its own policy, however. The Palm Center reports that chest surgery is disqualifying for only six months. And women are not disqualified from enlisting simply because they are prescribed hormones to manage gynecological conditions.

o The DoD report surmises why transgender individuals would not be able to successfully deploy. Yet DoD data shows that 40 percent of service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria deployed to the Middle East, and only one service member couldn't complete the deployment for mental health reasons.

o The DoD report claims that the cost of caring for troops with gender dysphoria is expensive compared to the general military population. The Palm Center points out that comparing a group with any condition against a general population would show higher costs for that group. They calculate that the extra cost for transgender service members comes to less than $13 per month.

The report also quotes the American Medical Association (AMA) statement that the DoD rationale "mischaracterized and rejected the wide body of peer-reviewed research."

DoD to recommend transgender OK for military service

2018-Feb-22By: Barry Shatzman

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will recommend to President Trump that transgender people continue to be allowed to enlist and serve in the U.S. military.

In July 2017, Trump announced that transgender people would no longer allow to serve in the military. He ordered the military to come up with recommendations.

Federal courts put the ban on hold, and transgender people have been able to enlist since January.

"This is a complex issue, and the Secretary is taking his time to consider the information he's been given.... he sees all of his decisions through the lens of lethality," Mattis spokesperson Dana White said.

White did not provide specifics of the recommendations. Those will be provided directly to Trump, who will need to decide how to proceed.

Transgender people can enlist in military

2018-Jan-01By: Barry Shatzman

The military will begin accepting transgender recruits today.

In lawsuits filed since President Trump announced that transgendered people would be banned from serving in the military, federal courts put the ban on hold.

The Trump administration announced it would not challenge the courts' block of its ban, meaning that transgendered people now can enlist.

The issue is not completely resolved, however. The Department of Defense (DoD) says it will release an independent study of the issue in the coming weeks.

Trump bans transgendered from serving in military

2017-Jul-26By: Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump announced through Twitter that the U.S. military no longer would allow transgender people to serve.

This reverses a 2016 Obama administration policy lifting the ban on transgender people serving.

Trump's off-hours posts on his personal Twitter account stated...

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow......

....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....

....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you


Evidence does not support either the cost or the disruption claim.

A study by the Rand Corporation estimates....

o There are up to 7,000 active service members who are transgender (out of 1.3 million active service members).

o Fewer than 300 would request transition-related surgery or hormone therapy. Compared to that, in 2014 almost 300,000 active duty service members received mental health services.

o Mental health services for transgender service members would cost up less than $9 million a year. According to Military Times, the military spends more than $80 million each year on erectile dysfunction prescriptions.

In terms of disruption, there are 18 countries - including Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel - that allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries. A conclusion of the Rand Corporation study was that, "In no case was there any evidence of an effect on the operational effectiveness, operational readiness, or cohesion of the force."

Studies in both Canada and Israel have shown similar results.

It is unclear at this time what will become of transgender people currently serving in the military. According to a report by The Guardian, the country's military command was unaware of the announcement at the time Trump posted it.

Rep wants to charge new service members for GI Bill

2017-Apr-24By: Rob Dennis

Rep. Phil Roe has proposed legislation to have new service members pay $2,400 to qualify for GI Bill education benefits.

There actually are two GI Bills for service members to choose from - each providing slightly different benefits. The 1984 Montgomery GI Bill requires service members to pay $100 a month in their first year of service. The 2008 Post-9/11 GI Bill costs service members nothing.

Under Roe's proposal, new enlistees would be charged $100 a month for two years to qualify for the currently-free Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The money - though significant to enlistees - would cover only 3 percent of the $100 billion that the program will spend over the next 10 years.

Roe, an Army veteran, said the plan would expand benefits from 15 years to lifetime, and extend them to National Guard and Reserve troops who are not deployed long enough to be eligible.

A hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on the proposal was quietly scheduled for April 26.

After vocal opposition from groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the hearing was cancelled almost as quickly.

Gabriel Shatzman contributed to this story

Air Force hiring more private contractors to pilot its drones

2016-Sep-06By: Barry Shatzman

As the Air Force increasingly uses drones for surveillance and strikes against terrorist groups, it is experiencing a shortage of pilots to fly them.

To fill the gap, it is hiring private contractors who get paid up to 3 times what their military equivalents make. They legally cannot fire weapons, but they can perform any type of reconnaissance that drones perform.

The military in general has been shifting from using its uniformed personnel to employing contractors for many support functions such as providing meals and security.

Transgender people may serve in military

2016-Jun-30By: Barry Shatzman

The U.S. military is ending its ban on transgender people serving, Secretary of Defense (DoD) Ash Carter has announced.

Draft for military service might include women

2016-Apr-28By: Barry Shatzman

Women will be required to register for the Selective Service just as men do if the defense spending bill currently in Congress becomes law.

The provision was added by Rep. Duncan Hunter, who ironically is against it. He proposed it to make a point that women should not be allowed to serve in combat roles, but other members of the committee approved it.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee, but still must pass the full House and the Senate and be signed by President Obama in order to take effect. The provision requiring women to register for the draft could be removed before the bill gets that far.

Hunter previously had introduced the Draft America's Daughters Act, which has not been voted on by the House.

Live nukes mistakenly flown over U.S.

2007-Sep-05  (Updated: 2007-Oct-19)By: Barry Shatzman

When a U.S. Air Force bomber landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on August 30, soldiers unloading the plane made a surprising find.

Nuclear missiles were mounted on the wings.

The Air Force did not realize the warheads were missing for more than 3 hours while they were in the air.

The warheads were not at risk to detonate, though they could have leaked plutonium had the plane crashed during its flight from North Dakota, according to a former Defense Department official.

Update 2007-Oct-19: As a result of this incident, 65 airman have been decertified from handling nuclear weapons and 4 officers were relieved of their command.

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