Nel's New Day

September 10, 2016

Good News While Congress Stays in Gridlock

The Obama administration made two monumental decisions this week.

Contractors building a pipeline attacked protesters with mace and dogs as they blocked construction on federal land and asked the company to suspend nearby work, and a federal judge refused to block the $3.7 billion pipeline crossing four states. Two hundred Native American tribes were joined by activists and celebrities to oppose the pipeline. The U.S. Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior stopped the pipeline, however, and said that “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects

With their tribal land a half-mile from the proposed pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux declared that the pipeline would desecrate sacred burial and prayer sites as well as leak oil into their water source of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers. The government will not authorize construction at Lake Oahe and asked the contractors to stop work on other land. The proposed 1,100-mile pipeline was to take crude oil from North Dakota, Montana, and Canada to the U.S. Gulf.

The company driving the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner, originally promised that all the oil would stay in the United States and lessen the nation’s independence on foreign fossil fuel, but they have withdrawn this guarantee after their successful lobbying to remove the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. The company’s filing with the SEC notes that “export projects” will “balance this market [with general oversupply] by 2018.” It also lists the pipeline as a “leader in the export of hydrocarbons.” In a presentation, Energy Transfer Partners stated that it is “exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on U.S. energy exports.”

The second welcome federal decision last week is a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would eliminate Title X funding to states cutting Planned Parenthood funding. PP uses about $70 million to serve over 1.1 million patients with incomes under $23,500 with contraceptives and screenings for cancer and STDs. Although none of the Title X funding can be used for abortions, 11 states have blocked PP funds. Congressional Republicans are also so intent on defunding PP that they won’t provide funding to protect people in the U.S. from the Zika virus.

PP is also attacking the Zika virus through the distribution of Zika prevention kits and education where the virus is shown to be spreading. Yet some high-risk states for the virus—Florida, Louisiana, and Texas—have blocked PP funds. In Florida alone, 84 pregnant women are currently infected with Zika. The most recent research shows that most of these women will give birth to infants with birth defects. About 84 pregnant women in Florida are currently infected with Zika, officials have said.

The 30-day public comment on this rule ends on October 7, 2016. Women who need the services of Planned Parenthood will appreciate all the support they can get. This is the link to the give a comment.

Good things may happen in threes. This week, the House finally passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights after the Senate passed its version last May. The bill mandates that victims be informed of rape kits’ results and legal status as well as preventing victims from being charged for the processing the kits. The law applies only to federal cases, but it’s a start.

Otherwise, Congress has spent its first four days after a long session doing almost nothing. They did pass a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, but it could lead to retaliation against U.S. citizens by other countries. At this time, victims can sue a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; this bill would allow citizens to sue countries without that designation. Although 15 of the 19 perpetrators of 9/11 tragedy came from Saudi Arabia, there is no proof that Saudi Arabia instigated the attack.

The problem about the bill comes from the concept of “sovereign immunity,” giving foreign governments immunity from prosecution in U.S. courts, according to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA).  As “state sponsors of terror,” Syria, Iran, and Sudan are the only exempt countries from FISA. Congress claims that the bill just passed would make only an exemption for this one lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, but legal experts have said that it would expand exemptions to any countries that commit the same terrorism defined in the legislation.

The bill may lead to other countries passing similar sovereign immunity exceptions, putting the U.S. at risk of being sued by their citizens. For example, Iraq could pass a law permitting its citizens the right to sue the U.S. government for damages during the Iraq War. If the U.S. lost its case in Iraqi courts, then the Iraqi government could seize U.S. assets in their country to pay the victims. Saudi Arabia has threatened that it would pull its assets out of the U.S. if the bill became law. The end result of this law might be to increase chaos in foreign policy process and undermines the ability of the president to craft a careful, cohesive foreign policy for all people in the nation.

The president has another nine days to make a decision on the bill.

As low as the bar has been put for Donald Trump, it’s even lower for Congress. Its only goal during September before they leave for another two months is “don’t close the government.” Even a stopgap funding bill has become difficult. The far-right Freedom Caucus wants one that goes into next year so that newly elected legislators can decide the budget. The others want one to end in December because they fear that next year will have fewer Republicans.

The first problem attacked on the first day of this session was the standoff in funds for combating the Zika virus. Republicans refuse to support the funding without eradicating all funds for Planned Parenthood. The Senate added more blackmail with demanding that environmental regulations on pesticides be loosened before granting Zika-related funds. The government has been taking anti-Zika funds from other areas, but all the funding is gone by the end of September.

A 52-46 procedural vote kept the Senate from moving forward to end debate on a conference report with the House about Zika funding, the third time that the proposal has failed because of targets against Planned Parenthood. The bill was attached to spending on military construction and veterans affairs, giving McConnell a chance to announce that Democrats opposed veterans. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said:

“Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag. Can’t make that stuff up — that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion, but the Senate offered only $350 million in new money and moved the rest of the proposed $1.1 billion from other health accounts, including the fund for fighting the Ebola virus.

While Congress dithered, “the number of Zika cases in the U.S. more than doubled to 2,700, and people infected with the virus turned up in every state,” an LA Times editorial. “A total of 17 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects, and about 1,600 pregnant women are known to have been exposed. And those are just the cases we know about; some 80 percent of those infected with the disease have mild or no symptoms.”

Another “big” issue in the House is an argument about impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for something done before he got the job. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has caved into the Freedom Caucus’ demand to put the issue up for a vote despite claims from GOP leaders and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that Koskin is guilty of incompetence, not a crime. Only once—in 1876—has the House voted to impeach a Cabinet member and never to an executive branch official below the Cabinet rank. Any action from the House would require a two-thirds majority from the Senate for conviction, an unlikely possibility.  Opposed to the impeachment is a group of 123 tax-law professionals, the American College of Tax Counsel, and a group of former IRS commissioners.

As Democrats pointed out, the House is pursuing what they see as “baseless attacks” while ignoring “urgent issues”—“Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis, and gun violence.” Ryan has his own priorities: his next one is probably to “punish” the Democrats who held a 25-hour sit-in because he wouldn’t bring any gun legislation to the floor. The man in control of whether any bill ever reaches a vote in Congress said about the sit-in, “That’s not the way that a democracy works.”

A year ago, the Freedom Caucus got rid of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); now they have their sights set on Paul Ryan when he comes up for speaker again in January. The 40-member group is even considering a departure from the 180-member House Republican Study Committee if the conservative group won’t let the far-right members of the House take over. A three-way split in the House could greatly benefit Democrats even if they don’t achieve a majority.

At least Congress will be gone in another three weeks. The question is whether the government will stay open after September 30.

March 29, 2014

Rape in the Military

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) fought for almost a year to move major crimes outside the military chain of command for judicial review but failed to get the necessary 60 votes in early March. That 60 votes, of course, is the new majority of 100 Senate members because almost everything is filibustered except for nominees. After the failure of the Military Justice Improvement Act, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) bill, which maintains status quo with extra protections for victims, unanimously passed. Male senators fought to keep military commanders in control with the claim that they’ll lose their power if an independent court rules on sexual assaults. As Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on the senate floor, “I trust these commanders. I trust them.” Gillibrand countered by saying:

“It’s not whether anyone in this chamber trusts the chain of command, the people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims. … The reason why the female victim does not come forward is because she does not trust the chain of command.”

Lack of trust is understandable because the top Army prosecutor for sexual assault cases was suspended after being accused of sexually assaulting a female lawyer who worked for it. The alleged act was at a legal conference about sexual assault. The current poster commander for sexual assault in the military is Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair. Shortly after Gillibrand’s bill failed, he was permitted to plead guilty to adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, disobeying a commander, possessing pornography in a combat zone and misusing his government credit card. His sentence included a reprimand with salary and restitution penalties of about $25,000 and a reduction in rank to lieutenant colonel. He will not serve any jail time, and he kept his pension and benefits. One reason that he got off almost scot-free was potential unfair advantage for command influence. The judge in the court-martial questioned whether the prosecution rejected an earlier plea-bargaining attempt because commanders felt politically pressured to prosecute Sinclair to the fullest extent. “Allowing the accused to characterize this relationship as a consensual affair would only strengthen the arguments of those individuals that believe the prosecution of sexual assault should be taken away from the Army,” the accuser’s counsel had written. Senior officers loved Sinclair, but those who served below him didn’t have much respect for the brigadier. After his departure from their command, soldiers put on a skit in which one of them asked the person portrayed as Sinclair if he wanted oral sex. Charges against him included a captain being forced to perform oral sex on Sinclair. She also claimed that he threatened her and her family if she revealed their three-year affair after she said she was looking forward to meeting his wife. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said, “This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is.” At a House Armed Services Committee hearing, she said to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, “This is a sexual predator. For a sexual predator to gain this rank and [be] given a slap on the wrist suggests that the system doesn’t work.” Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) said the case demonstrated a “toxic military culture.” McHugh said he is still reviewing the case and has the option to demote the general and sharply reduce his retirement pay. Observers say that commanders keep prosecutors from bringing cases to court or force prosecutors to take unwinnable cases to court. The control is entirely with the commanders. Former President Jimmy Carter, who served in the Navy, supports the removal of authority from commanders in the cases of sexual assault. He said, “I was a submarine officer. I was qualified to command submarines. And it’s almost impossible for commanding officers to bring to justice a rapist, because it reflects adversely on his capability as a military commander if sexual abuse is taking place in his company or his battalion.” There are other reasons for moving the decisions out of the commanders’ control. They may not punish service members because they like them, and they may not want to be distracted from their mission. A colonel was asked why he failed to take action after a guardswoman reported that she had been raped by a guardsman in Iraq. He said, “I didn’t have time for that high school drama.” The guardsman got a letter of reprimand; the guardswoman received a medical discharge for PTSD. Another soldier court-martialed for sexually harassing a female soldier was convicted with no punishment. After the trial, he hugged the victim, saying “no hard feelings.” General Brigadier Bryan T. Roberts wasn’t as fortunate as Sinclair. The commander of the Fort Jackson (SC) training camp which trains approximately 60% of incoming female recruits was fired for adultery after he beat his mistress hard enough to send her to the hospital for three times. Air_Force_Sexual_Battery_Charge.JPEG-02e1aAir Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was luckier. The Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention was drunk and charged with grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. The 23-year-old American University graduate testified that he came up behind her while she was on the phone, gave her a “squeeze,” and “asked me if I liked it.” She punched him. The server testified that “he was just a drunken mess.” Using the excuse that he might have grazed the woman by accident, Krusinski got off. Rape victims are reluctant to report these crimes for good reason. Almost two years ago, attorneys questioned a 21-year-old female midshipman at the Naval Academy for over 20 hours after she accused three other students of sexual assault at an off-campus party. She had seen social media posts leading her to believe that she was raped while she was drunk. All three defendants admitted sexual contact with her on that night. Defense attorneys tried to silence her with the following questions and statements:

  • How do you perform oral sex?
  • Tell us about your sex life?
  • You had sex with him before, right?
  • You were flirting.
  • Did you “feel like a ho” the next morning? [Yes, this was one of the questions.]
  • You must be hiding something.
  • Drunk sex is not sexual assault.

The case proceeded, with only one of the three going through a court-martial last week. He was exonerated; the victim wasn’t. A sexual assault “prevention and response” brochure issued by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) advises victims to consider submitting to their attack. “It may be advisable to submit than to resist,” the guide said in a section labeled, “If you are attacked,” saying victims should make that decisions based on the circumstances behind their attack while being “especially careful” if their attacker has a weapon. There are no directions in the brochure telling service members not to commit sexual assault. Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Israel are among the many nations that have moved disposition of sexual assault crimes out of the military to be determined independently by trained prosecutors. In Germany, all offenses against military order, such as being disrespectful, are handled administratively, Crimes, even crimes by military members, are prosecuted by civilian officials. That would level the prosecution field, but the United States thinks that its military is too special and sexual assault victims are expendable.

August 23, 2012

Rape: The GOP Downfall?

As the craziness of this year’s Congressional election built up, I decided to save some of the looneyness of what these people are saying and put all these people together. It seemed like a fairly simple task: just put down the person’s name and then the one or two oddities that came out of the person. Until Todd Akin.

When I began to keep notes, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) had said just a few things such protesting student lunches for poor kids while campaigning for his state’s senate seat;  last Sunday, however, he said in an interview that the female body can keep itself from being impregnated in cases of “legitimate rape.” Something about stress keeping women from ovulating, information discovered during Nazi studies during the Holocaust, and women secreting some kind of magic fluid. The storm began. Republican lawmakers began to work on explanations of different kinds of rape and backing off, sometimes running from both Akin and the topics of rape and abortion.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) who co-sponsored a bill outlawing abortion except—maybe—to save the woman’s life, now proclaims, “Rape is rape.” Once again the VP nominee is denying that he said anything else, statements that are on video in the Ethernet. Unfortunately for him, there is written proof that he co-sponsored a bill with Akin that, by limiting federal funding of abortion to cases of “forcible rape,” could make rape survivors give birth to their rapist’s child. Outrage caused the term “forcible rape” to be taken out of the bill, but Ryan had signed on before that happened.

Over his career in the House, Ryan cast 59 anti-choice votes and endorsed a large number of measures to limit or completely bar abortion in the United States. He also said that the health exception, allowing women to have an abortion because of health reasons, would make the law against abortion “virtually meaningless.”

2012: Ryan supported the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that would ban abortions in Washington, D.C. after 20 weeks gestation. It failed in the House on July 31.

2011: Ryan was one of 145 sponsors of the Protect Life Act passed in October allowing hospitals to refuse any involvement in abortions, including providing referrals. At this time, religious hospitals that accept federal funds but refuse to provide abortions must provide emergency care and transfer the patient to another hospital does provide abortions. Ryan’s measure would let women die without any health care.

2006, 2007, and 2010: Ryan cosponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act that grants fertilized eggs the same constitutional rights as adult humans. As residents in Mississippi discovered when this bill was on the ballot, this measure would classify in vitro fertilization and some contraceptive forms as murder. If this bill had gone into law, Mitt Romney’s son Tagg and his wife would have been considered murderers because they have had three children with in vitro fertilization. The measure would also force doctors to lie to their pregnant patients because of its requirement to follow a specific script that contains lies.

2005, 2007, and 2011: Ryan supported the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act that would federalize state laws on minors seeking an abortion and parental notification. Doctors would have to notify the minor’s parents or guardian in writing and wait another 24 hours before performing an abortion.

Some of Akin’s ideology probably came from his mentor, Reverend D. James Kennedy: Akin cites Kennedy’s sermons as important intellectual influences and has been named in Kennedy’s book How Would Jesus Vote? as one of the Reverend’s “favorite statesman.” This is what Akin learned from Kennedy:

Rape victims who chose abortion are “hysterical.”

Rape victims can be responsible for being raped.

The Bible should set our laws about rape and abortion.

Husbands should determine if their wives can have abortions.

Akin’s idea that women experiencing “legitimate” rape won’t get pregnant goes back to Dr. Fred Mecklenburg’s 1972 article “The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician’s Perspective.” These two pages were included with 18 others in the the 1972 anthology Abortion and Social Justice compiled by Dr. Thomas W. Hilger. Mecklenburg had been chairman of obstetrics at Inova Women’s Hospital in Fall’s Church (VA).

The “proof” from the sadistic doctors in the German concentration camps during World War II omitted the fact that highly abused women suffering from malnutrition may not ovulate. Mecklenburg’s wife, Marjory, chaired the National Right to Life Committee and served under both Presidents Ford and Reagan. Her husband conveniently gave her the “science” they needed to show that pregnancy from “legitimate” rape is nonexistent.

Since Akin made his radical statement about “legitimate” rape, Dr. John Willke of the National Right to Life has supported Akin’s belief about rape, claiming that trauma prevents pregnancy. According to Wilkie, “The tubes are spastic.”  [?] Wilkie has strong connections with both Ryan and Romney. He said he met Ryan, who listened to Wilkie’s views and then said, “That’s where I’m at.” Wilkie praised Ryan as “a very obedient Catholic.”

One of Romney’s official campaign surrogates during Romney’s 2008 run for president, Wilkie also met with Romney last October. “He told me ‘thank you for your support–we agree on almost everything, and if I am elected President I will make some major pro-life pronouncements,’” Willke said.

There are at least four scary pieces to the Todd Akin situation:

Akin is already in Congress: he is already making law for the nation. In fact, he’s a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Akin is not alone in what he believes. Other conservative lawmakers may not struggle with the issue of “legitimate” rape, but they do believe that women are faking rape so that they can abortions for their personal satisfaction. They also believe that women should not have the right to control their own bodies

Akin represents the Republican platform. The platform just passed wants a personhood amendment to outlaw all abortion as well as in vitro fertilization and the most popular forms of contraception.

Akin shows everyone where the Republicans want to take the country.

On MSNBC Tuesday evening, Howard Fineman said: “What matters here and what makes this important politically is not what it might or might not do to the Missouri Senate race, whether he stays in or not, et cetera, Claire McCaskill’s chances of re-election or not. What matters is that the views that Todd Akin has espoused and the legislation he’s supported is exactly in line with what the perspective Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, believes and supported. That’s what turns this into a huge issue. Because Todd Akin is the Paul Ryan of Missouri. And this created a huge problem for the Romney campaign today and yesterday as they sought to sever Todd Akin from Paul Ryan and unite Paul Ryan with the somewhat different view that Mitt Romney now has.” Fineman is right on target.

Once Ryan declared that “Rape is rape”—changing his earlier position–he tried to weasel out of the debate by saying that whatever Romney says, goes, because Ryan isn’t running for president. Sure—just vice president.  Evidently Ryan doesn’t understand that the vice-president might become president. In addition, we’ll never know what Romney thinks because he never takes a position, except in the case of not releasing his tax returns.

New evidence of this comes from Shawn Boyd from the Denver CBS affiliate who talked about Romney’s ground rules for an interview:  “The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin.” No questions such as whether Romney agrees with the federal ban on all abortions, even in cases or rape or incest, from his own party platform. Or whether he agrees with the 38 anti-abortion bills that his running partner co-sponsored. Or if Romney still supports his 2007 position that he’d be “delighted” to sign a bill that would no longer allow abortions “at all, period.” Does Romney keep to his position, that he revealed to Mike Huckabee, that he “absolutely” supports a “Personhood” measure that would ban abortion and some forms of birth control? Nope. No questions on the subject.

While many Republicans continue to call for Akin’s resignation from the Senate race, it appears that they don’t oppose his views. They’re just afraid of losing votes if their views become openly known. Even more frightening is that it’s now public information that the GOP party platform wants to take away reproductive rights from every woman. All voters need to remember that the Akin agenda is the GOP party platform. Republicans call for Akin’s resignation only because they think he can’t get elected; they want to find somebody else who might in order to get another Republican into the Senate.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has an excellent suggestion: “As GOP convention planners consider platforms and pledges, they also might contemplate a seminar for Republican men about how the fairer sex works.” If they understand current science regarding women’s bodies, they might come up with better arguments.

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