Nel's New Day

March 7, 2014

Travesties in Congress: Issa, Sexual Assault in the Military, Abegdile

More negative news came out of Congress last week, including the House’s 229-183 to pass the Electricity Security and Affordability Act. If the bill became law, big companies would be more secure because the EPA could no longer place any rules on coal-fired electricity plants. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced its companion in the other chamber.

Last week’s big news about the House, however, was Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) continuing vendetta against President Obama via the IRS. The chair of the Oversight Committee spent last week bragging that he would make former IRS official Lois Lerner will talk to his committee about the non-existent IRS corruption.

Issa’s plans went awry, however, after he tried to close down the hearing because Lerner answered his questions by asserting her Fifth Amendment rights. When Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD),  ranking member, tried to speak because he had information from Lerner’s lawyer, Issa literally cut him off by shutting off his microphone. No Democrat was allowed to speak at the hearing. After that, the story became all about Issa because the Ethics Committee tried to censure him.

At first, Issa demanded an apology from Cummings. Later Cummings said that Issa had apologized, and Cummings had accepted it. Issa still blamed Cummings for having a “hissy fit.”

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) demanding that Issa be removed as chair, the Black Caucus pointed out that Issa had not only broken the House rules on civility but also failed to allot each committee the requisite five minutes for questioning witnesses. In a party vote, a resolution to chastise Issa was tabled, killing the move.

The day after Issa’s hearing, the Senate rejected independent oversight of prosecution of sexual assault in the armed forces.  Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s bill received 55 votes—which these days does not constitute a majority of the 100 Senate members. The bipartisan bill is supported by conservatives Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Supporters of the bill have argued that military commanders cannot be unbiased because they know both the victims and the accused abusers. In some circumstances the commanders are actually those being accused.

On the same day that Gillibrand’s bill was filibustered, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair. He confessed to three lesser charges: adultery, asking junior female officers for nude photos and possessing pornography while deployed in Afghanistan.

The Army is also investigating its top sex crimes prosecutor, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, for allegedly groping a female lawyer at a sexual assault conference in 2011.  Morse, who supervised 23 other special-victims prosecutors, was removed but not charged.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the Senate actions part of “a frustrating pattern” because it “has chosen to keep the status quo.”

In opposing Gillibrand’s bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the accusation that “this [bill] is about liberal people wanting to gut the military justice system.” Eleven GOP senators supported  the proposal including conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY), and David Vitter (R-LA).

adegbileAnother low point for the Senate was the rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Unfortunately, it was expected because the Fox network waged a vicious campaign against the nominee for over a month and Adegbile has proved to be a master lawyer in the field of voting rights. President Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

abuSenators focused almost entirely on Adegbile’s defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund had taken the case before Adegbile joined them. His only part of the case was to file a motion in 2009 claiming that the jury was discriminatory. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling agreed with the NAACP lawyers that the trial judge’s jury instructions violated Abu-Jamal’s rights, but the conviction remained. Abu-Jamal is still in prison for life without parole. Fox inflamed its audience by concentrating only on this one issue, consistently referring to Abu-Jamal as “cop killer” and showing his photograph while discussing Adegbile which gave the impression that the man in prison was the lawyer involved in his case.

One of the seven Democrats who voted against Adegbile, Chris Coons (D-DE), did so although he found Adegbile to be qualified because he wants someone who can get along with the police. He, Mark Pryor (D-AR), and John Walsh (MT) are up for re-election this year. The other four Democrats aren’t: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Bob Casey Jr. (PA.).

People in the United States have a long history of respecting lawyers who advocate for justice, working to ensure that the American criminal justice system is fairly and constitutionally administered. Attorney John Adams defended the soldiers who killed his fellow Bostonians in the 1770 Boston Massacre before he went on to be elected the president of the United States. He called this defense “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he defended a murderer who killed eight people, including a teenager.

For the last two Democratic presidents, the Senate has fought nominees with strong civil rights backgrounds. President Clinton lost two nominees, Lani Guinier and Bill Lann Lee, because they defended minorities when they worked for NAACP. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) went so far as to claim that Lee’s work for NAACP made him biased. George W. Bush’s appointees created a “significant drop in the enforcement of several major anti-discrimination and voting rights laws,” according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

During the confirmation of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter (October 1990), Sen. Orrin Hatch was the voice of reason. When critics opposed Souter for defending literacy tests in his home state of New Hampshire, Hatch pointed out the Souter did this because they were law. Souter was required to defend the law.  In Souter’s defense, Hatch said:

“It is not right to go back in hindsight and say he should not have done that; that that shows something wrong with him. Come on, that is what advocates do. If we are going to start using a nominee’s briefs against him in the confirmation process, we are going to be setting a shocking precedent. It would be a very, very dangerous message to send to lawyers: If you have any ambition to be a judge, you lawyers, do not represent controversial clients and be careful what you say on behalf of a client because you might be held responsible for the fact that the law was as it was at the time you made the statement.”

Hatch, all the other GOP senators, and seven Democratic senators are now sending that dangerous message to lawyers. House Speaker John Boehner and 211 GOP members of the House have spoken, saying that committee chairs are not required to follow House rules. And military commanders can continue to sexually abuse members of the military either themselves or by overlooking these tragic events. This past week has been very sad for people’s constitutional rights.

June 12, 2013

Legislative Males Take Charge

Yesterday, I wrote about the way that six Republican men, with no imput from women or medical doctors, moved a highly restrictive anti-abortion bill to the House floor. (More about that later.) Today a Democrat senator, Carl Levin (MI) decided what is best for raped women (and men) in the military despite protests from women, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The issue was whether the military rape cases should be moved to independent prosecutors instead of leaving it in the hands of ineffective military leaders, some of them rapists themselves. Gillibrand’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, moving these cases away from the failed military, had 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

Branch commanders complained about their loss of authority if this would happen, and the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee arbitrarily replaced Gillibrand’s amendment with his own, moving up the cases to a higher level of command if unit commanders decide not to prosecute service members. Levin’s plan was approved in committee by a 17-9 vote.

The Senate involvement came from the Pentagon’s annual report that estimated as many as 26,000 military members experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, an increase from 19,000 the year before. The abuse of victims is clear: last week a woman in the military who accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her last year said she was disciplined for drinking while her alleged attackers went unpunished.

Navy veteran Trina McDonald, who survived three rapes by other military members while serving in Alaska in 1989, predicted that Levin’s action would deepen the military’s sex-assault crisis. McDonald said that she did not report the crimes because she would have been forced to do this with the offenders, her superiors.

Gillibrand can still introduce her amendment when the Defense spending bill reaches the floor, but opposition from Levin and military leaders give it a slight chance of passing. Co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), summarized the position of Levin and other male senators: “They basically embrace the status quo here.”

As the New York Times wrote in “A Failure on Military Sexual Assaults”: “It is distressing that two decades of scandals could not persuade Mr. Levin to budge from his decision to support the military brass.”

Following the Senate Judiciary Committee vote yesterday to move anti-abortion bill to the floor, Chair Trent Franks (R-AZ) must be feeling defensive to make the following statement:

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low. But when you make that exception [allowing rape victims to get abortions], there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.”

Franks tried to explain this statement by saying that he was referring to women seeking abortions in the sixth month:

“This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”

An estimated 32,101 women, about the same number as people killed from guns, get pregnant from rape per year in this country. One study found that about 32.4 percent of victims did not find out they were pregnant until their second trimester—beyond the strict 20-week limit in Franks’ bill. Some studies show that rape victims are even more likely to get pregnant, putting the number of women who became pregnant from rape in one year around 83,000.  Even if they do find out before the 20-week limit, finding a clinic that performs an abortion has become an extremely time-consuming process.

The question for Franks is why it matters how few women this would affect. Does he mean that laws should only provide for a large number of people?

Another man in Congress is throwing around his weight. House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), king of the manufactured-scandal investigations, has decided that he doesn’t want anyone to know the information that his committee received about the scrutiny in the IRS. After seeing all the transcripts, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), asked Issa to release this information. A week after Cummings’ request, Issa called releasing the full transcripts to be “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Issa’s leak of partial transcripts with cherry-picked quotes, concealing the interview with the conservative Republican who started the Tea Party review, is far more “reckless.” His refusal must be taken as admission that the transcripts hold no “smoking gun.” Ten days ago, Issa said, “The whole transcript will be put out.”

Issa’s behavior has caused him to lose support of some GOP members. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who chairs the panel’s Oversight subcommittee, said that the release of partial transcripts could “adversely alter our ability to get future information from other IRS employees.” He expressed concern that Issa’s political act could stop an investigation for the facts.

Today Issa sent Cummings a letter scolding him for his suggestion that the IRS investigation was finished. During a Sunday interview on CNN, Issa said that Cummings’ desire to close the inquiry into the IRS targeting was “irresponsible, but not surprising.” Issa listed a number of questions that the investigation has not revealed. Lumped together, these questions seem to boil down to this from Issa: “How can I provide that Obama is at fault?”

On the state level, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and his fellow GOP legislators have moved on from union-busting and destroying the middle class to controlling women. A state senate bill, passed this morning, mandates the GOP-popular transvaginal ultrasound before abortion, the same invasive procedure that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said would be against the constitutional right to privacy.

“I don’t have any problem with ultrasound,” Walker told reporters. “I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” Another man with no medical training thinks that he should override a physician’s decision for a patient with a medically unnecessary procedures.

The bill mandates that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provide a list of free ultrasound clinics. Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), said she would pull them together from the “pregnancy help centers,” organizations run by religious anti-abortion groups. The only requirements for these “clinics” is that the person performing the ultrasound not have a record of conviction for sexual offenses and that both trans-abdominal and trans-vaginal types of ultrasound equipment are available.

The bill also imposes additional restrictions on abortion clinics, forcing a Planned Parenthood clinic to shut down. Currently only four health clinics in the entire state of Wisconsin provide abortion care. Another part of the bill designed to close clinics is the mandate that doctors who work in abortion clinics must get admitting privileges at a hospital. Mississippi passed this provision to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state, but it was blocked by the courts.

Senate President Mike Ellis, the man conducting the vote, could use this video to apply for a part in a violent horror film as he wildly wielded his gavel to prevent any debate. Ellis blamed the Democrats for his action because they tried to debate a motion that was not debatable. “They triggered this,” he said. “I am a nice guy.” Ellis allowed only one Democrat to speak this morning before the vote.

Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), the longest-serving state legislator in the nation, called this morning’s actions by the Republicans the worst abuse of power he has experienced in his more than 50 years as a legislator.

As usual in Wisconsin, the fast-tracked bill has gone to the GOP-controlled House, ignoring due process. Last year, Walker signed three anti-abortion bills into law and expanded abstinence-only education, which is unsuccessful according to studies. His budget also stripped 91 percent of Planned Parenthood funding, resulting in the close of clinics in rural Wisconsin.

And there you have some of the men controlling our rights according to their personal preference and ignorance.

June 21, 2012

Nuns Tour to Help Poor

The nuns are still on their tour although people who read only the mainstream media wouldn’t know it. There’s much more coverage on the bishops’ protesting birth control than the nuns’ protesting economic injustice for the poor. If nuns were men ….

The best coverage for the nuns’ activity on Tuesday, the second day of the tour, comes from Barbara Miner’s blog View from the Heartland, called “The Nuns Are Here! The Nuns Are Here!” She tops the story with a photo of 81-year-old Sister Diane Donoghue, as she snaps a photograph from a freeway pedestrian overpass in Milwaukee’s central city. Each week a group of people use well-lit placards to send messages to freeway travelers. Last night Overpass Light Brigade’s message was “Question Authority,” and the nuns marched with Overpass Light Brigade.

The energy of these women is phenemonal! Their walk across the overpass to highlight the anti-poor essence of the Ryan budget proposal culminated a 14-hour day. To quote Miner, “The nuns began with a 9 a.m. press conference at a food pantry in Iowa, got on the bus to Wisconsin, visited Ryan’s office in Janesville to deliver their budget critique, headed up to Milwaukee where they ate dinner at the St. Ben’s meal program in downtown, followed by a “Friend Raiser” at St. John’s on the Lake.” (I was tired by the time that they got to dinner!)

The Nuns on the Bus tour is organized by Network, a social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., that was founded more than 40 years ago by group of Catholic nuns inspired by the Vatican II reforms and religious involvement in civil rights, antiwar and feminist movements.

Some of the Catholic men in the United States are irritated by nuns believing in their support of the poor rather than the male opposition to birth control. In the New York Times, Bill Keller quoted Bob Donohue, president of Catholic League, as saying that Catholics who don’t want to follow the current Vatican should “shut up or go.”

Instead of helping the poor, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now president of the U.S. bishops organization that opposes the nuns, established a policy almost ten years ago to pay off pedophile priests to that they would go away and not be an embarrassment to the Catholic Church. The initial payoff was a $20,000 bonus followed by a $1,250 month pension and, until they found a job, health insurance. That may be why men in the Catholic Church don’t worry about the Ryan budget: pedophiles are rewarded with $15,000 a year plus health insurance. That’s more than 50 percent above the poverty level and more than 25 percent of the people with a job make annually in this country.

The nuns know about the need for a safety network in this country to keep people from being “food insecure,” but the Senate refused to keep an amendment that would keep $4.5 billion in food stamps funding. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NW) proposed that the money for food stamps would come from trimming the guaranteed profit for crop insurance companies from 14 to 12 percent and by lowering payments for crop insurers from $1.3 billion to $825 million. The Senate vote down the amendment by 66-33. The loss of this $4.5 billion for people in poverty means families will each get $90 less per month, about one-fourth of its food budget.

According to Gillibrand, “Half of the food stamp beneficiaries are children, 17 percent are seniors, and unfortunately now 1.5 million households are veteran households.” About 26 million people in the United States received this aid in 2007, while more than 44 million got it last year, at a total cost of $76 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that demand will continue to grow through 2014 because of the recession. At least the Senate doesn’t go as far as the House; their budget calls for $134 billion in cuts over 10 years.

Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said it was critical that Congress pass a farm bill soon “to provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.” There doesn’t seems to be a concern about “certainty” for people who cannot afford to buy food.

Bill Moyers is one journalist who is following the nuns’ tour. His website has  videos and a great interactive map of their 15-day journey. Thus far the bus has stopped at the state offices of Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Joe Walsh (R-IL), all who voted for Ryan’s budget and none of whom were available. Tomorrow they’re scheduled for Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Justin Amash (R-MI), both of whom voted against Ryan’s budget.

Monday they head to the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who supported the Ryan budget. In just Ohio, the Ryan budget would eliminate $72.6 million from the Head Start budget, more than $110.8 million in special education spending which affects nearly 63,937 students, and 177 million meals for families needing food stamps as well as ending a tax credit that would help 107,210 Ohio small businesses provide insurance to their employees.

Tony Vanacoro, a commenter on an article from Think Progress, said it best: “I am a complete and avowed atheist, but even I know it’s bad karma to piss off Nuns!”

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