Military

Chelsea Manning: Not the Only Military Name Change

With a stroke of his pen, President Harry Truman finished changing the name of the Department of War to the Department of Defense in 1949. Truman Library

The Pentagon has long replaced names it doesn't like

A Kansas judge on Wednesday allowed Bradley Manning to change the imprisoned Army private’s name to Chelsea Manning. “It’s a far better, richer, and more honest reflection of who I am and always have been—a woman named Chelsea,” Manning said in a statement on ChelseaManning.org.

The name change shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent time in or around the U.S. military. The Department of Defense has been known to erase one name in favor of another when it has suited its purposes—and it didn’t need a judge’s approval to do it.

The Army said Leavenworth County District Judge David King‘s ruling is “only a name change” and won’t change Manning’s status. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence at the Army’s all-male Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas, for leaking 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks before his arrest in Iraq in 2010.

War always generates an often-foul ground-pounders’ patois, but it’s the top-down rebranding that’s of interest following the Manning case.

For starters, the Department of Defense was known as the Department of War until 1947, when the newly-created (and named) Air Force, along with the Army, gathered under the same roof for the first time with the Navy (the new outfit was known as the National Military Establishment until 1949).

War has always had, not to put to fine a point on it, a specific and violent meaning. With the end of World War II—and the beginning of the Cold War—the U.S. government found itself needing a standing Army for the first time in its history. Replacing War with Defense made the change more palatable.

The Pentagon tends to embrace words that make war seem antiseptic: exploding bullets, bombs and missiles have become kinetic, which is the Pentagon’s preferred way of saying bloody. “When you fire a kinetic weapon, it blows something up—you can see the effect,” Mark Lewellyn of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, explained to Congress last year. “With some of the non-kinetic weapons you don’t really know what effect you’ve had until either the weapon from the other side doesn’t show up or it misbehaves.” Non-kinetic weapons include forms of electronic warfare that disable while not destroying (at least in a physical sense).

Along the same lines, over the past generation, civilian casualties have become collateral damage. When the Obama Administration was weighing military action against Syria last year for its alleged use of chemical weapons, a congressman voiced concern that “the possibility of civilian casualties could be very great” to Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Well,” Dempsey responded, “the targeting requirements actually, as given to me by the president, require us to achieve a collateral damage estimate of low.” Doesn’t hurt quite as much, rhetorically, when stated like that.

In 2010, the Pentagon opted to replace the term Psychological Operations with Military Information Support Operations, which went over like lead leaflets for the psyop troops charged with airdropping them on Afghans and Iraqis far below. But psyops—with its connotations of deception and other black arts—was deemed so tainted that U.S. commanders were leery of working with its proponents.

“Although PSYOP activities rely on truthful information, credibly conveyed, the term ‘PSYOP’ tends to connote propaganda, manipulation, brainwashing and deceit,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in 2010, according to the National Journal. “As a result, a wide range of military-information related activities and capabilities have become tarnished by the term.”

One of the late comedian George Carlin’s wryest bits was the evolution of World War I’s shell shock to World War II’s battle fatigue. The nervous malady wrought by combat became operational exhaustion in Korea, and post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam.

“The pain,” Carlin said of the changing nomenclature, “is completely buried under jargon.”

justice

Low-Level Drug Convicts Get New Route to Ask Obama For Clemency

The Obama Administration opens a door for non-violent drug offenders to reduce their sentences

Non-violent federal inmates who have served at least 10 years of their prison term are eligible to participate in a new initiative to send more clemency requests to President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The Obama Administration has been working for years to reduce the sentencing disparities between convictions for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, but sentencing legislation updated in 2010 was not made retroactive. Obama recently granted commutations to eight crack-cocaine offenders who were serving lengthy sentences, but there are thousands more in similar positions, some of who are expected to qualify under the expanded criteria for clemency announced Wednesday. Under the 2014 Clemency Initiative, non-violent, low-level, federal prisoners who would have received a lower sentence if convicted today and have served 10 years in prison with good conduct can be identified and seek clemency through the Bureau of Prisons, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said.

“These defendants were properly held accountable for their criminal conduct,” Cole said. “However, some of them, simply because of the operation of sentencing laws on the books at the time, received substantial sentences that are disproportionate to what they would receive today.

Officials said the new initiative will streamline the process of clemency requests and identify more candidates for Obama to consider. They said the initiative will keep public safety in mind, reiterating that clemency does not mean prisoners are being pardoned for their crimes. “Even low-level offenders cause harm to people through their criminal actions, and many need to be incarcerated,” Cole said.

A number of pro-bono lawyers and organizations, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union have also agreed to work with prisoners who fit the criteria and request legal assistance. The groups praised the administration’s shift on sentencing, while noting there are many other federal inmates whose sentences are disproportionate to their crimes.

“The doors of the Office of the Pardon Attorney have been closed to petitioners for too long,” said Mary Price, FAMM General Counsel. “This announcement signals a truly welcome change; the culture of ‘no’ that has dominated that office is being transformed. We stand ready to assist in any way we can to support petitioners and bring their cases to the attention of the President.”

2014 Election

The Republican Woman Loses, Again

Lizbeth Benacquisto
Lizbeth Benacquisto, facing, hugs supporters after losing to opponent Curt Clawson in the special Congressional District 19 Republican primary during her election night party in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Carolina Hidalgo

It's starting to look like the GOP won't have many female candidates left standing by November

Voters in a Florida congressional district went to the polls Tuesday to elect a new representative following Trey Radel’s resignation this year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. The winner was millionaire businessman and Tea Party darling Curt Clawson, who self-funded his campaign to the tune of $2.65 million. But the story of who won isn’t much of a surprise: A rich, white Tea Partier is not a new breed in Washington these days. It’s the story of who lost that’s more telling for the GOP: Florida state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Benacquisto was the establishment favorite for the seat and had the most political experience by far. Her supporters in Tallahassee spent almost $300,000 in Super PAC money to help get her elected and she received money from Republican Reps. Aaron Schock and Jason Chaffetz. Not to mention former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came and campaigned for her.

But while she raised almost $1 million in less than three months, Benacquisto couldn’t compete with Clawson’s self-funding. Nor could she keep pace with the nastiness of the special election.

During a midterm election cycle in which establishment candidates are generally beating back Tea Party challengers, it’s striking how many female House GOP candidates have lost primaries or are trailing in both polls and in fundraising. In statewide elections this year, Republicans have succeeded in attracting a host of qualified women who are running strong campaigns. But House candidates continue to lag. To date, House Republicans have 33% less women running this cycle than in 2012.

Theoretically, Benacquisto should have gotten help from Project GROW, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s push announced last year to help elect women. But that program has done little since failing to help Kathleen Peters, a Florida lawmaker, win a primary in another special election earlier this year. And the NRCC’s director of strategic initiatives and coalitions, Bettina Inclan, who ran Project GROW, made a rare mid-cycle jump from the NRCC earlier this month to a Florida consulting firm. Jessica Furth Johnson, the NRCC’s deputy executive director and general counsel, has taken over running to program, according to NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.

As I wrote earlier this week in a story about another neglected female House candidate, highly qualified Republican women are struggling to break through in House races this cycle. Female lawmakers on the state level tend to be more moderate and thus have a harder time competing in highly gerrymandered districts where primaries favor the most conservative candidate. And even if they are as conservative, women candidates also tend to be less bombastic, making it tough to break through on a rhetorical level. “The NRCC doesn’t endorse candidates in primaries,” Bozek says. “We work with all candidates in competitive races put together strong campaigns.”

At this rate, there won’t be many Republican women left standing come November.

White House

Obama’s New Bodyguard: Mr. Issa, Meet Mr. Eggleston

Sara Taylor testifies before Congress
Former White House political director Sara Taylor (R) confers with her attorney Neil Eggleston (L) at a hearing of the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. USA on 11 July 2007. STEFAN ZAKLIN—EPA

The new White House counsel is an expert at managing Congressional investigations in high-profile cases

Perhaps the best indicator of what the final two years of the Obama presidency will be like came Monday with the announcement that Obama had chosen W. Neil Eggleston as his White House counsel.

A former lawyer for Bill Clinton’s White House, Eggleston continues a return of veterans of the 90’s like John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri to the Obama team. More importantly from Obama’s point of view, Eggleston’s client list over the last 20 years includes top players in some of the messiest, highest-stakes fights in Washington.

Eggleston represented two Clinton administration cabinet officials in corruption cases and Hillary Clinton’s close aide Cheryl Mills during the controversy over Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. He was Rahm Emanuel’s lawyer when former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was being investigated for selling Obama’s vacated Senate seat in 2008-9.

It is his work during the Bush administration that offers the best foretaste of Obama’s final two years, however. During the scandal over the allegedly politically-motivated firing of U.S. prosecutors, Eggleston deftly represented Karl Rove’s aide and former White House political director, Sara Taylor, in negotiations over her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Eggleston was also hired by Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, during the lobbying scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff. Reed served as a pass-through for money from Abramoff’s Indian tribal clients, and Abramoff asked Reed to arrange access to Karl Rove early in the Bush presidency. Once Congress began investigating Abramoff, Reed hired Eggleston to represent him as he cooperated with the Congressional inquiry.

The Obama administration has faced a number of Congressional investigations over the years, including an ongoing one by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa into alleged politically motivated behavior at the IRS. Issa’s committee has charged a mid-level IRS official with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify on Fifth Amendment grounds. Issa previously charged Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt for refusing to provide documents in the Fast and Furious case. Last week, Issa announced he was probing the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to revise questions regarding health insurance coverage, saying the adjustments “could be used in misleading arguments about the coverage impact of the affordable care act.”

If Republicans win the Senate next year, such conflicts between the legislative and executive branches are sure to increase. With Eggleston, Obama will now have one of the best in the business on his end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

White House

Barack Obama Just Ate The Best Sushi In The World

President Obama begins his week-long Asia trip by dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the world's only three Michelin star sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was popularized by Anthony Bourdain's television show No Reservations

+ READ ARTICLE

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed President Barack Obama to Tokyo Wednesday by taking him to the greatest sushi restaurant in the world, the three Michelin star Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The unassuming restaurant is located in the basement of an office building off a subway station and seats just 10 people at a time at a long bar. It is owned and operated by Jiro Ono, who turns 90 next year, who has been learning and perfecting the art of sushi since the age of nine, with Jiro’s eldest son, Yoshikazu Ono, pitching in. Their restaurant was popularized by Anthony Bourdain’s television show No Reservations, and gained mythical status after the 2011 release David Gelb’s documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

What makes this sushi so good? First off, the ingredients. Each morning Yoshikazu bikes to the Tsukiji fish market to select fish and seafood to his and his father’s exacting standards. In the film, the restaurant’s tuna dealer (they have a prefered vendor for each seafood variety) scoffs at an array of beautiful tuna, “People say there is good quality here today—there is nothing good here today.” Jiro has his own special rice vinegar for the sushi rice. “It has good body and is both mild and sharp,” the restaurant website explains. “Although its degree of vinegar is high, it does not have that pungent smell of vinegar. This is the perfect rice vinegar for sushi.”

Next, there’s the technique. Jiro’s apprentices train for at least ten years, and don’t slice anything until they first learn how to hold the fish. In the film, Jiro explains how he came to prepare the perfect octopus, saying his apprentices used to massage it for 30 minutes before cooking it. Now, it’s massaged for 45 minutes. The seaweed is hand-toasted over charcoals. Jiro or Yoshikazu hand-form each individual dish, applying just the right amount of soy sauce or salt to bring the seafood closer to perfection.

Jiro has spent decades mastering the proper temperature to serve sushi. The rice is maintained at body temperature, while the toppings are kept different ideal temperatures for the specific preparation. The seafood itself could be marinated or aged for days depending on the specific fish to meet Jiro’s standards.

Finally, the experience. While Obama and Abe were in the restaurant for 90 minutes, the average Jiro meal last little more than 20 minutes. Immediately after each bite-sized dish is consumed, the next is placed on the wiped-down plate. The sushi is eaten with your hands, and there’s no additional soy sauce or wasabi to apply. It’s perfection, as determined by Jiro.

From left: Japan's Prime Minister Shizo Abe fills the glass of U.S. President Barak Obama during a dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district on April 23, 2014.
From left: Japan’s Prime Minister Shizo Abe fills the glass of U.S. President Barak Obama during a dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district on April 23, 2014. Japan’s Cabinet Public Relations Office/Kyodo/Reuters

There is only one menu at Jiro’s restaurant, his. The 30,000-yen Chef’s Recommended Special Course. And the drink list is spare: beer, or Japanese sake (though tea is also served.) Moreover, getting a seat at the restaurant is notoriously difficult. Reservations are taken one month in advance beginning at the first of the previous month and are usually gone in a matter of hours. At current exchange rates, the quick meal puts a large dent in the wallet, costing nearly $300, though this is down from more than $400 when the dollar was weaker against the Yen.

Joining Obama and Abe were US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and national security adviser Susan Rice. On his way out, Obama told reporters, “That’s some good sushi right there.”

Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: April 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the News: Obama visits mudslide town, kicks-off Asia trip; Tuesday was a busy day for the Supreme Court; New York Times poll on Southern Senate races; and Rick Perry wants to debate Andrew Cuomo

  • Obama visits Washington town devastated by mudslide [TIME]
  • From CNN: “”I just wanted to let you know that the country is thinking about all of you, and have throughout this tragedy,” the President said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here as long as it takes.”
  • The President landed in Japan this morning, kicking off his tour of the region. From Reuters: “Obama, who is making the first full state visit to Japan by a U.S. President since 1996, must assuage worries by Tokyo and other allies that his commitment to their defense in the face of an increasingly assertive China is weak, without hurting vital U.S. ties with Asia’s biggest economy.”
  • On your mark, get set, lie: the Supreme Court weighs in about truth in politics [TIME]
  • U.S. Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action [WSJ]
  • From Bloomberg: “The ruling has both symbolic and substantive significance. A decade ago, the University of Michigan won a Supreme Court decision that let institutions across the country continue to use race as an admissions factor. The survival of the voter-approved initiative means that ruling is nullified for the university that secured it.”
  • Another bad day for affirmative action…another good day for the conservative backlash [The New Yorker]
  • How Lindsey Graham outmaneuvered the tea party [Politico]
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to debate New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo [Dallas Morning News]
  • In case you forgot….. [Youtube]
  • From Washington Post: “Perry famously stumbled badly in a debate among Republican presidential candidates in 2011 when he failed to remember the final of the three federak agencies he said he would cut if elected. ‘If anybody’s looking for the slickest politician or the smoothest debater, I readily admit I’m not that person,’ Perry said on ‘Fox & Friends’ after that debate.”
  • “Four Senate races in the South that will most likely determine control of Congress appear very close, with Republicans benefiting from more partisan intensity but a Democratic incumbent, once seen as highly vulnerable, holding a surprising edge, according to a New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.” [NYT]
  • GOP Newtown bill hits impasse [The Hill]
  • American reporter held by Ukraine separatists [NYT]
  • Reuters reports: “General Motors Co filed a motion in a U.S. bankruptcy court to enforce a bar on lawsuitsrelated to ignition defects in carssold before its 2009 bankruptcy as it fights a class action lawsuit that seeks to set aside the restriction. The plaintiffs also filed a class action lawsuit on Monday, seeking an order declaring that GM cannot use the bankruptcy protection to absolve itself from liabilities.”
  • Another from TIME’s interactive master : Obama thinks he can rank colleges. Can you do better?

 

 

 

 

 

Asia

Obama Lands in Tokyo On First Stop in Asia Tour

President Obama walks off Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on April 23, 2014.
President Obama walks off Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on April 23, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

He begins a week-long tour of Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines to reassure allies and position the U.S. as a regional leader

President Barack Obama arrived in Tokyo Wednesday evening on the first stop in a four-country tour intended to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its Pacific allies.

Obama will be visiting South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in addition to Japan, CNN reports, as the United States tries to position itself as a counterbalance to China’s growing economic strength in the region.

The President will seek to further progress on a trade deal with Japan, and will dine with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday at the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro, where food service lasts 20 minutes and costs around $292 per head. He will visit an innovation center in Kuala Lumpur and negotiate a new agreement that could boost the United States’ military presence in the region in the Philippines.

Obama’s long-touted “pivot to Asia” ran into obstacles last year when the president canceled a trip to visit Pacific allies amidst the debt ceiling debacle. Since then, distractions including the Iran nuclear talks, the civil war in Syria and unrest in Ukraine have hampered Obama’s aim to exert U.S. influence in the region.

With the current transportation disasters in Asia—the sinking of the South Korean ferry, and the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight—Obama is entering a region engrossed with its own domestic problems. “The South Korea visit could really be overshadowed by the ferry,” an unnamed senior administration official told the New York Times.

[CNN]

Education

Obama Thinks He Can Rate Colleges. Can You Do Better? (Interactive)

See how colleges stack up based on what you think is most important in a school

Last year, the Obama Administration announced a plan to assess schools on how well they serve their students, based on metrics like graduation rate, tuition, and the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federally funded scholarships for low-income families. For a system that has yet to be put in place, the White House’s college ratings have created a great deal of panic.

To see how those ratings might play out, TIME gathered data for 2,500 college and universities and ranked them according to the proposed metrics. But we’ve left it to you to adjust how important each of those metrics should be. Adjust the sliders, and watch the the schools reshuffle.

As Haley Sweetland Edwards notes in the most recent issue of TIME, many college presidents are convinced that the ratings proposed by the Obama administration would fail to capture the value of their schools. The White House insists that far too many sub-par schools are cashing in on federal student loans and leaving their students in the lurch.

The White House is proposing to take a bunch a date of data about schools and determine a rank for each. This would produce an algorithm that functions in many ways like Google’s ranking of Web pages. In the case of search engines, the exact nature of this algorithm is a secret. The White House’s algorithm will presumably not be secret, meaning it will be quite easy for schools to game the system.

That sounds like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. When algorithms work well, they reward good behavior. In the same way that the Google algorithm rewards sites that offer clear descriptions of the content and coherent navigation, a good college ranking algorithm could inspire schools to offer better grants to those who can’t afford the tuition and provide help for those at risk of dropping out. A poorly designed algorithm, meanwhile, could incentivize them to shut out students who have lower statistical odds of graduating.

The interactive at the top of this article presents a simplified rating system based on three qualities the White House has mentioned: Graduation rate, accessibility and affordability. For accessibility, the interactive uses the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants. For affordability, we’ve used the net cost paid by families who makes less than $110,000 a year and receive some form of aid.

By rewarding both accessibility and graduation rate, this system corners one of the trickiest problems facing schools looking to climb the rankings: Students from low-income backgrounds are statistically less likely to graduate. The most expedient way for a school to boost its graduate rate would be not to admit students in this cohort. Doing so, however, would theoretically hurt the school in the accessibility category more than it boosted the school in the graduation category, resulting in a drop in the ratings. At least, this is how a good White House algorithm would work. Fine-tuning the formula to work as advertised would require a sophisticated statistical analysis of the data. In the meantime, you can drag the sliders around to see which schools would rise to the top given existing numbers.

Methodology

All data comes from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Each school is evaluated according to its six-year graduation rate, the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates receiving Pell grants and the net cost for students receiving any form of aid whose families make less than $110,000 a year. That figure is calculated by TIME as the weighted average net cost for students in each of the Department of Education’s reported income brackets. Where that data is not available, overall net cost (tuition and fees minus grants and scholarships) is used.

These three data points are standardized, so that each school’s score is the number of standard deviations above or below the mean. The app then adjusts these values according to the position of the sliders, sums the square roots of those values, and takes the square of the sum. (A detailed discussion of that method is available here.)

The classifications of schools come from the Carnegie classification system. Schools without a Carnegie class are not included.

Courts

On Your Mark, Get Set, Lie: Supreme Court Weighs Truth in Politics

The Supreme Court in Washington, DC, seen in 2013.
The Supreme Court in Washington, DC, seen in 2013. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

The justices appear ready ahead of the midterm elections later this year to knock down laws in 16 states that aim to prevent lying in political races, likely claiming they violate the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech

With the 2014 midterm elections fast approaching, the Supreme Court faced an urgent task on Tuesday: making it safe for America’s politicians to lie.

Ohio and 15 other states have laws trying to prevent lies during political campaigns, and by all appearances the Supreme Court can’t wait to knock them down for violating the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech. But to their evident frustration, the Justices haven’t yet had the chance. Of the 500 or so anti-lie proceedings initiated between 2001 and 2010 under Ohio’s law, only three charges ultimately have been brought, all of them settled out of court.

So the argument at the Supreme Court on Tuesday was mostly about whether the Ohio election commission had squelched political speech in the upcoming midterm elections by finding four years ago that there was probable cause to believe the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List was preparing to lie in political ads during the 2010 elections.

At this point, nobody much wants to contest whether SBA List actually was lying when it said in a proposed billboard ad that then Democratic Congressman Steven Driehaus had supported taxpayer-funded abortions by voting for Obamacare. More important is the fact that the billboard company refused to run the ad after Driehaus threatened to sue under the Ohio law.

SBA List’s lawyer, the redoubtable Michael Carvin, argued on Tuesday that the group has a right to bring a First Amendment case challenging the Ohio law now even though Driehaus dropped his threat to sue after he lost the 2010 election. Carvin said the Ohio commission’s determination of probable cause was a “credible threat” that SBA List would face punishment if they used the same campaign language against other pro-Obamacare candidates in the coming election season.

The Justices seemed inclined to agree. Antonin Scalia intoned ominously about the chilling presence of a “Ministry of Truth.” Anthony Kennedy was suspicious of the Ohio commission’s power to quiz political groups about their members and operations. Democratic appointees Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all peppered the resilient young lawyer for the state of Ohio, Eric Murphy, with questions about how the Ohio law potentially suppressed speech.

Politics has always been essentially inseparable from lies — everyone from Plato and Machiavelli to Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt have defended the value of lying in politics — so it’s not surprising the Ohio law faces an uncertain future. If a democracy is weak enough that state officials have to take the place of voters and the press in determining whether politicians are lying, the experiment in self-government is probably in trouble.

At least that appeared to be the undertone of the arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. And given the Justices’ repeated sympathies for SBA List’s arguments about the urgency presented by the coming midterm elections, a ruling in favor of the group seems likely before the court adjourns in June.

Military

As the Wars End, Changes Come in Training Troops to Notify Families of Military Deaths

Army photo

Battlefield deaths decline, but military still has to bring grim news

The wars are nearly over. So it is time for the U.S. military to reboot for one of its most somber tasks: Telling next-of-kin their loved one has died in the service of his or her country.

Over the past 13 years, casualty-notification officers have had to take that long walk up to a family’s front door, and make that dreaded knock that changes everything, 6,803 times.

But with battlefield deaths down to a trickle, the Marines are seeking a new video to help train its Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (each service has its own title for the job) for a future where more will die in peacetime accidents than combat. “The current scenario is 100% war-related,” the corps says in a notice posted Tuesday. “A more current version is required to meet today’s situations.”

The Marines say they want their new training video to include cases involving:

  • Marine’s death due to a training incident
  • Dual active-duty spouse with complicated marital issues
  • Divorced Parents
  • Dealing with children
  • Updated grief/trauma awareness
  • Self-care for CACOs

That last one is critical. This is a tough mission, where raw human emotions run the gamut.

“I’ve picked family members off the floor,” Army chaplain Captain Gregory Broderick said in an Army News Service story last month. “I’ve sat and held them as they’ve rocked and cried… I did one recently where they kicked us out of the house. They were so mad, not at us but at their son,” he confided. “I’ve been spit on as well.”

“You’ve caught them at their worst day,” added Army Major Mark East, the top chaplain at the service’s Human Resources Command.

With the war in Iraq over for more than two years, and with the shrinking number of U.S. combat troops still in Afghanistan slated to leave by year’s end (a total of 33,000 remain), the number of those killed in battle, thankfully, is way down (17 so far this year). March marked the first month without war casualties in 11 years (unfortunately, April won’t be the second).

When casualties spiked in Iraq in 2006, some families criticized the way the military informed them of their relatives’ deaths. That led Congress to demand additional training for those making the notifications, and detailed Pentagon regulations on how it is to be done.

Army Major Brent Fogleman did casualty notifications around that time, after a stint in Afghanistan. The notification job was “by far, yes” his toughest assignment. “There were some guys that couldn’t do it… if they couldn’t do it we didn’t want them to do it,” he said. “That’s not something you cannot do well.”

Families used to learn of their loved one’s fate in terse “regret to inform you” telegrams. That changed in Vietnam, when the Army began dispatching casualty-notification officers and chaplains to deliver the sad news personally.

The service now gives its casualty-notification teams four hours to get to that front door after the Army’s personnel shop has received word of a death. These days, they’re in a race to that door with Facebook and Twitter. They usually, but not always, win.

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