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The F Word: Tweeting Admiral Mullen

Here’s something you may not know. The chairman of the joint-chiefs-of staff Mike Mullen has nearly 5,000 devoted followers on twitter. He sends out tweets about what he’s reading (“The Bookseller of Kabul”), whether Gen. McChrystal is asking for more troops (speculation he says), and the president’s latest podcast, which apparently raised the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (“When law changes, we’ll carry out the law,” he tweeted). The army recently issued an order that all U.S. bases provide soldiers with access to facebook and other social networking sites. And several top generals now have blogs.

But, according to Wired magazine, the military is rethinking all this and is all but certain to ban Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools in the near future. The Marine Corps has already made the move claiming that such sites pose risks because of “high exposure.”

But there may be other reasons. Major General Michael Oates of the Army’s Task Force Mountain has been sounding off on issues that really wouldn’t pose any kind of threat to security. A one-sentence post in the form of a question titled “what needs to be changed” sparked a conversation on mental health care and apparently led to improvements at the Ft. Drum base in NY where the general is based. Another post about tour lengths in Iraq triggered a fevered 40 comment debate “with soldiers and family members taking Oates to task in ways that would be unimaginable face-to-face.”

Other subjects that have come up include the Army’s stop-loss policy and rates of pay.

Coming on the heels of a report in the New York Times that the number of suicides among soldiers in 2008 had reached its highest level in three decades one wonders if the military’s thinking on blogging, facebook and all the rest is smart.

It would probably be a good idea to give the soldiers more opportunities to communicate not fewer.

Which brings me to the fourth annual Net Roots Nation conference beginning tomorrow in Pittsburgh. There’s a panel on “The Path Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan” at 9 a.m. on August, 13. Maybe we should send a tweet to Admiral Mullen.

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders, author, and host of RadioNation on Air America Radio, has built a reputation for courageous investigative journalism coupled with compassion and a sense of humor. In writing her last book, Blue Grit, she traveled the country reporting on grassroots success stories and broadcast live to over 150 radio stations from community centers in places including Helena, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. In her television appearances (Lou Dobbs, Larry King Live,) on radio and in her many books (including Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species) and articles (The Nation and others,) Flanders calls for a new politics of fairness, equality and citizen action. Articulating the human dimension of American communities in trouble, her programs have become destinations for those seeking the skills and the will to make a difference. Flanders is a regular contributor to the Nation Magazine and CNN. Before joining Air America, where she was part of the original lineup, and hosted “The Laura Flanders Show” for three years, Flanders was the founding host of the award-winning “Your Call” weekday mornings on public radio, KALW in the Bay Area and CounterSpin, the radio show of the mediawatch group, FAIR.