Tag Archives: Reid

Profiles in Cowardice: GOP Soft on Terrorism

Gun Congress I should have known, given that Senator Dean Heller’s last campaign material came from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, that he’d cave to NRA radicals on the following bit of legislation: S.Amdt. 2910 to S.Amdt. 2874 to H.R. 3762

All those links refer eventually to a simple amendment —

“To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists.” {Sen}

And, how did the junior Senator from Nevada cast his vote?  Here’s the roster from vote # 319 —

Heller Terrorist Vote 319That’s right – all those “Nay” votes were to prevent the Department of Justice from refusing to approve gun sales to those on the Terrorist Watch List.  In other words, spoken so often in the last 48 hours, Senator Heller doesn’t want terrorists flying but he evidently has no problems allowing them to waltz into a gun store and loading up on – say,  “1600 rounds of ammunition, another 4,500 rounds ‘at home,’ two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns.” [ABC]   

“Senators will need to decide where they stand. Or do they stand with the NRA?” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, declaring that the Senate had been “complicit through our inaction” in the 355 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since the start of the year. “Those who choose to do the NRA’s bidding will be held accountable by our constituents.” [WaPo]

That pretty well sums it up.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Heller, terrorism

Pain Capable Panderers Get The Wedgies

Heller Goo 2

No matter how much he may try to stretch himself into a “moderate” shape Nevada Senator Dean Heller is aligned squarely with the radical right when it comes to women’s health.   The U.S. Senate can’t seem to address major items like climate change, infrastructure, and the voting rights act, but the Republican controlled body can certainly spend time on women’s bodies.  Witness: H.R. 36, and the vote thereon. [rc268]

H.R. 36 is the product of the House conservatives’ brain-flatulence and emphatic embrace of pseudo-scientific items like a “pain capable” fetus, in which abortions would be banned after twenty weeks.  What’s the science?

“Published research generally supports an experience of pain being possible only later in gestation than 20 weeks. A synthesis of available evidence was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 by experts from the University of California, San Francisco, and elsewhere, and their report concluded: “Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” The third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks from conception.” [FactCheck]

There are a couple of things to notice in the summary above. First, “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited,” or, restated, there is limited evidence (read: little) that the fetus is able to perceive pain. Secondly, if we accept the “limited’ evidence, then the perception is unlikely until 27-28 weeks after conception. However, nothing scientific stopped Senator Dean Heller from voting to bring H.R. 36 up for a vote.  The motion to break cloture failed.

Nevada’s other Senator, Harry Reid, offered the following summation of GOP efforts:

“It is said that you cannot make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it’s a choice. On every issue imaginable Republicans are choosing to  employ the same failed strategy. Over and over again, they drag Congress and the American people through votes that are publicity stunts designed to boost their conservative records.

Today we stand in the midst of yet another Republican show-vote designed to honor the political wish list of extremists. Once again, Republicans have decided to place women’s health at the center of their ideological campaign. We’ve seen this tactic before.  It doesn’t work. Americans are tired of Republican attacks on women’s health.”

And yes, the bill is going nowhere, and the vote was a waste of time.  However, it does appear indicative of a Republican strategy in this Constant Campaign season.

Enter The Wedgies

For the sake of argument, let’s define a wedge issue as a social or cultural topic introduced into a campaign which seeks to attract and galvanize persuadable voters who might otherwise focus on economic or other major issues.  There’s nothing particularly new about this technique.  We could start almost anywhere, but 1968 seems as good a place as any, as an election into which two divisive issues were raised: “Public Order,” and “busing.”  The former sought to brand Democrats as the party of chaos (Chicago civil unrest) and the party supporting “forced integration” for which “busing” was the stand-in.  The busing (race) issue morphed into “States Rights”  and “welfare queens” (race) during the 1980 campaign, which was, in turn,  revised into the “Affirmative Action” (race)  issue in 1996. The “gay marriage wedge issue” was used to good effect in the 2004 election season.

Clinging to the Wedgies

While wedge issues are extremely helpful during primary elections, their utility may diminish during general elections depending on the level of voter turnout.  The danger of the wedge strategy is that it may be viewed as what is on offer from a party which has very little else to publicize to a national audience.  The second danger inherent in the wedge strategy is that the issue itself may become marginalized and less effective in national elections.

It’s a useful exercise during any campaign season to take a step away from the publicity attached to single issues or single candidates and see what the polling says about national priorities.  For example, the July 28, 2015 polling done by Quinnipiac University shows registered voters placing the highest priority on the economy and jobs (37%), health care (13%), terrorism (12%), and foreign policy (9%).  Immigration (9%), Climate Change (6%), federal deficit (6%), taxes (3%) rounded out the polling.  Those social and cultural issues garner about 2% to 3% in other polling. [TPP]

Note that of the contemporary wedge issues only immigration is seen as a major national priority (9%) and the polls don’t indicate the perspective of the voters in terms of either passing comprehensive immigration policy reform, or on the other hand, a policy of mass deportation. Gay marriage and abortion barely register with a majority of American voters.

Using gay marriage as a wedge issue appears to be one of those issues whose time has come and gone. Gay marriage might have been a potent wedge issue in 1996 when only 27% of the population thought those marriages should be valid, however its luster faded by 2015 when approximately 60% of the American public agreed that gay marriages should be legal. [Gallup] The fact that only the most radical of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates sought to exploit the issue of the Kentucky county clerk leads to the conclusion that this issue has also been marginalized.

The next available wedge issue for social  conservatives is abortion, and it appears to be moving center stage for its close up in the 2015 primary season.  The priority given to the abortion issue by the GOP has been explained thusly:

“The answer lies in the Republican Party’s shift to the right. A decade ago, between 30 and 40 percent of Republicans identified as pro-choice. This May, (2012) that number was a scant 22 percent. It’s hard to know whether that’s the result of Republicans changing their minds about abortion, or pro-choice respondents ceasing to identify as Republicans. But the result is the same: The party is increasingly uniform in its opposition to abortion.” [AmProsp]

This might help to explain why H.R. 36 (and other similar legislation) is perceived as a cohesive issue for Republicans and why Senator Heller and others have attached themselves to it.  Trends in voter affiliation may support the thesis that some are ceasing to identify as Republicans since polling was done in  2003.  As of 2014 32% responded as Democrats, 39% as Independents, and 23% as Republicans; a loss of 7% in self-identification with the GOP since 2003. [PRC]  If the trend continues, we might reasonably conclude that the fixation in the GOP with what appears to be a wedge issue of limited utility could have serious consequences for that party in upcoming national elections.

Given the Republican Party’s march to the right, the willingness of its national leadership to adopt a wedge issue like abortion, and the continual emphasis placed on the topic by ultra-conservatives, probably means we will see more publicity about Planned Parenthood, more non-scientific legislation, and more lock step votes such as that of Senator Heller in the U.S. Senate.   And it’s still over 400 days until the next national election.

Recommended/Reference: N. Coca, “Wedge Issues: A 2008 Historical Preview,” NithinCoca, January 2008.  D.S. Hillygus, T.G. Shields, “The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns, Princeton University Press, 2009.  K. Walsh, “Wedge Issues Take Center Stage in 2016 Race,” USNWR, April 2015.  Sen. Harry Reid, “Republican Attacks on Women…” Press Release, September 2015.  D. Townshend, “Abortion: The New Wedge Issue,” American Prospect, August 2012.  Pew Research Center, “Trends in Party Affiliation,” April 2015.  The Polling Report, “Problems and Priorities,” July 2015.

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Filed under abortion, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Reid

Take That Yellow Ribbon Magnet Off Your Bumper

Yellow Ribbon Senator Harry Reid (R-NV) nailed the ginned up controversy about the capture of a Libyan terrorist in this commentary:

“It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal. Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country — that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.” [TPM]

The Senate Majority Leader’s remarks contain the essence of the Republican response — belittle, allege conspiracy, insulting, and carping — because some credit might accrue to the Administration for coordinating the capture of the terrorist who launched the attack on our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Indeed the capture of Khattala did garner much chattering in the wasteland that comprises Fox News. [TPM]  “It” was a conspiracy — a capture designed to help Sec. Hillary Clinton with her book tour? “It” was ill timed — gee, Khattala’s been walking free for two years, what was the Administration doing all that time?  The Administration could have issued the “go order” at any time!  Pathetic really is a well chosen word for this palaver.

Consider the result for a moment, and think of the intricacy of entire operation.  A terrorist 6,259 miles from the United States, in a country of 6.2 million people, is captured without being injured, and in an operation which did NOT result in any civilian casualties.  Further, the terrorist is not only captured, but arrested, to be charged with capital crimes against American citizens.  The case against him has to be built, carefully and with all the precision required by our system of justice.

Obviously, our Special Forces held up their end — the intelligence gathering, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation in addition to the assignment and training of personnel; and then the rehearsal, the plan modifications, the logistical coordination of men, transportation, supplies, and equipment — everything and everyone to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

What thanks do they get from the carping right wing noise machine? They could have captured Khattala at any time?  Criticism of this ilk really has lost touch with reality — as if the critic is sitting in the living room with the game controller playing through a Shoot’em Up Script.  Criticism of this nature is an insult to those who plan, coordinate, assess, revise, and implement complicated military operations.

Those who “support the troops” should be appreciative of their efforts.

So, my right wing acquaintances — you can keep that yellow Support the Troops magnet on your bumper when:

1. You can give credit where credit is due. When you can applaud the killing of Osama Bin Ladin without sniffling. When you can applaud the take down of the Somali pirates without carping. When you can take pleasure in the surgical extraction of a known terrorist over 6,000 miles away and return the felon to face the charges he richly deserves.

2. You can call as loudly for the funding of veterans services and benefits as you do for launching military operations which create more veterans.  If I never hear another Republican like Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) say that veterans’ benefits are an entitlement we can’t afford [Electablog] it will be too soon.

3. You can understand that while we want our troops to have the best and most effective weapon systems we also need to pay the personnel who are to use them.  It doesn’t do to bellow about cuts to military BAH (Basic Allowance Housing) or subsidies for military families, while at the same time calling for balancing the budget and paying for weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.  The term we’re looking for here is “fiscal responsibility.” Fiscal responsibility in the very real world.

4. You call for using diplomacy before you shout for more young men and women to take on dangerous tasks in dangerous places. Professional members of our arms forces know that war is the failure of diplomacy — perhaps at some point you’ll understand this as well.

When you can comprehend these four things then I’ll no longer be justified in seeing your bumper magnet as merely a proclamation of your militarism and your disdain for the Commander in Chief.


Filed under Politics, Republicans

Let Them Eat Pie In The Sky

Pie in the SkySo, the Senate version of a bill to extend unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed will be on the Senate floor on Friday (maybe), if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can move through the arcane labyrinth of the Senate Rules. [Roll Call]

The arguments emanating from the GOP side of the aisles would be easier to understand IF anyone from that quarter could explain why it was perfectly acceptable to extend long term unemployment benefits FIVE TIMES during the Bush Administration — but is somehow categorically unacceptable today.

The Incredible Moving Goal Posts

The fact that the Senate Republicans continue to move the goal posts on Senate action serves to remind us why the arguments against the extension are ultimately specious.

The Senate Republicans wanted to add amendments, amendments were allowed, but not enough amendments? Not the right kind of amendments?  The Senate Republicans wanted a Pay For, they got one — on the backs of working people — who would be required to make larger contributions to unemployment insurance programs — that was insufficient, they want MORE… of something.  Whatever. And, whatever is offered by the Democratic leadership we can all bet it will be insufficient to assuage the tender sensitivities of the Ever Outraged GOP.

Right here in the Silver State we have approximately 20,000 individuals who are among the long term unemployed. [LVSun]  They join the estimated 1.3 million [CAP] to  3.8 million now still unemployed or still looking for work in this country. [Guardian]

Let Them Eat Pie In The Sky?

At this point we get to the major question — What’s wrong with extending long term unemployment benefits for people who’ve been out of work for more than 27 weeks?

(1) The incredibly flexible Deficit Argument:

The Republicans won’t vote in favor of extending unemployment insurance benefits because that would increase the federal budget deficit (except the Pay For on offer from the Democrats) unless the Democrats add a provision increasing military retirement cost of living benefits — which would ADD TO THE DEFICIT.  [Roll Call]

Be that bit of illogical thinking what it may, the notion that unemployment benefit insurance payments are swirling into the Black Hole of The Ever Flexible Budget Deficit can’t be sustained when the actual cost to the federal government isn’t increasing. The Congressional Budget Office reported last April:

“Federal spending on unemployment insurance: Annual outlays increased from an average of $33 billion from 2004 through 2007 to $119 billion in 2009 and $155 billion in 2010; they dropped to $93 billion in 2012 and we expect them to decline further over the next few years.”

All you have to do in order to accept the GOP argument that the cost of extending unemployment insurance benefits for 1.3 million long term unemployed people is too much to sustain is simply to ignore the fact that unemployment benefit costs have been declining since 2010.  For those not connected to the Fact Based Universe this should be relatively simple.

(2) Lazy People Argument:  Here they go again!  Somewhere, out there in the Shadow Land of Make Believe there are thousands of lazy shiftless do-nothings who are perfectly happy to be the beneficiaries of public largess — who aren’t members of Congress.  First, this is a Dog Whistle argument, as if receiving unemployment insurance benefits is a form of welfare.  It isn’t, of course, workers have paid into those employment insurance programs.  However, the economic or statutory reality of a program has never stopped the anti-government crowd from splattering the ‘welfare’ label on something, anything, that might remotely help someone.

Secondly, there’s that conception amongst the uninformed that people can make more money not working than by working.  “They” can earn more on ‘welfare,” or “They” can get by not working by simply taking unemployment checks.  The people making these claims have obviously never seriously checked into the eligibility requirements of the Nevada program.

No, in this state, as in most every where else, the Shiftless One cannot refuse employment at a lower rate just because unemployment benefits might be higher — they aren’t and they don’t.   But, we know what the GOP’s thinking?  “They” are those “inner city….. people…..who sit on porch steps….” And, now we’re back at the Dog Whistle.

(3) We’re Just Here To Help You – Have Some Pie From Our Sky.  The problem with pie in the sky is that it is intrinsically  inedible.

In the theoretical world of the Club For Growth and other ultra-conservative outlets, unemployment insurance benefits constitute a drag on employment by being a dis-incentive to work.  Anything which supports a person who is not currently working is automatically classified as a dis-incentive because were the support not available the person would have to work to eat, or something like that.

This also requires the corollary concept that there is work for everyone.  Except that’s not the case, there are now three job seekers for every job opening in the country. [politifact] Thus, the Pie in the Sky model of economic theory falls flat because in the real world of real numbers, two of the job seekers (with or without support) are still going to be looking for work whether there’s an incentive or not.

The second problem with this Pie in the Sky argument is that most people are working, seeking work, or getting discouraged in the process.  Consider, Nevada has an unemployment rate of 8.7%, which means that 91.3% of employment aged people ARE working.  The unemployment rate in the Reno area is 9.1%, meaning that 90.9% are working — [DETR] if the mere existence of unemployment insurance benefits, or any other safety net program,  is such a dis-incentive for working people, why are so many people doing it?

Most of the time the arguments from the ultra-right require the acceptance of a negative view of humanity, a perspective which demands acknowledgment of such furtive claims as “They” are undeserving because “They” are lazy, shiftless, bums who want to watch television and drink beer… without having to specify who “They” might be.  It’s also handy to buy into the well debunked Trickle Down Hoax, in which every tax avoided by a corporate employer, every source of funds left untaxed, and every loophole created in the tax code is magically translated into imaginary jobs.  We tried 30+ years of this and all we got was a Mortgage Meltdown compliments of the Wall Street Casino.

If there are no procedural problems other than those manufactured by the obstructionist GOP leadership in the Senate, and there are not statistical reasons not to extend unemployment insurance benefits for those who have already paid into the systems, and there are no rational economic reasons for not continuing to utilize automatic stabilizers such as the unemployment benefit insurance programs … then why not pass the bill?

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Filed under Economy, employment, Politics, Reid, Republicans, unemployment

Unemployment Insurance: S. 1845 and its appendages

BillTo say, as I did in the last post, that S. 1845 to extend unemployment insurance benefits to our long term unemployed was headed for the House was premature, as aptly pointed out by the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus.  The bill may get there eventually — after our solons have tacked on various and sundry amendments.

This, as the redoubtable Club For Growth, never one to shy away from its Supply Side Hoax and 0.01% perspective, had the following to say about those who voted in favor of Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) cloture motion:

“Congress should end the federal unemployment insurance program and return the authority back to the states, which already have programs in place. Absent this, Congress should pay for this extension by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget. After six years, an extension can no longer be called an “emergency” with any credibility. There is plenty of waste in the federal budget from which to find an offset.

Our Congressional Scorecard for the 113th Congress provides a comprehensive rating of how well or how poorly each member of Congress supports pro-growth, free-market policies and will be distributed to our members and to the public.”  [Club for Growth]

There’s nothing subtle about their agenda, “end the federal unemployment insurance program...”   And, we can guess where they want to cut — Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, Meals on Wheels, School Lunch programs, etc.  It’s also safe to conjecture that they don’t mean major cuts to defense spending or to subsidies to major multi-national corporations.  Also missing is any reference to a solution other than cuts.   For example, raising revenues?  However, back to the amendments:

Some of the amendments proposed to S. 1845 are interesting. There’s Senator Ayotte’s  amendment about Social Security numbers (SA 2603) which sounds innocuous until it’s recognized as an obvious bit of “immigrant bashing.”

“Ayotte proposed an amendment Tuesday to make low-income American citizen children of undocumented immigrants ineligible for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit by requiring parents have a Social Security number to claim the credit. On the Senate floor, Ayotte claimed the benefits are being exploited by “people who are claiming a refundable tax credit for children who should not be entitled to it” and asserted, “Many of these children do not even live in the United States or may not even exist.” [ThinkProgress] (emphasis added)

This isn’t anything new.  Senator Vitter and Senator Rubio have advanced bills in previous sessions on this subject, basing their “case” for “rampant fraud” on the testimony of one, single, self admitted, tax preparer. [AmProg] Unfortunately all this amendment does is to further advance the odious notion that some citizens born in this country are “more equal than others.”

Speaking of Senator Vitter, there’s Senator Vitter’s (SA 2604) Bash Obamacare 101 review which says in part:

“Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives and the Financial Clerk of the Senate shall make publically available the determinations of each member of the House of Representatives and each Senator, as the case may be, regarding the designation of their respective congressional staff (including leadership and committee staff) as “official” for purposes of requiring such staff to enroll in health insurance coverage provided through an Exchange as required under section 1312(d)(1)(D) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18032(d)(1)(D)), and the regulations relating to such section.”

Senator James Inhofe’s amendment (SA 2605) has nothing to do with unemployment benefits and everything to do with giving individual states control over energy development on public lands.

Senator Coburn’s watching out for the little guy?? His amendment (SA 2606) says, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to make payments of unemployment compensation (including such compensation under the Federal-State Extended Compensation Act of 1970 and the emergency unemployment compensation program under title IV of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008) to an individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was equal to or greater than $1,000,000.”

Of greater utility is Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Pathways Back to Work Amendment (SA 2608) which puts some money into getting the long term unemployed back to work.

Then there’s Senator Coats’s SA 2611, which would delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act until December 31, 2014, as well as other implementation delays.   We already knew they couldn’t pass up another opportunity to obsess over the ACA.  Senator McConnell’s already gotten heat from Senate Majority Leader Reid on this one. [The Hill]

Senator Moran has a lengthy amendment (SA 2612) which starts out speaking to foreign nationals and entrepreneurship, and then goes on this tangent:

“The Secretary shall award grants to support institutions of higher education pursuing initiatives that allow faculty to directly commercialize research in an effort to accelerate research breakthroughs. The Secretary shall prioritize those initiatives that have a management structure that encourages collaboration between other institutions of higher education or other entities with demonstrated proficiency in creating and growing new companies based on verifiable metrics.”  (emphasis added)

Nothing like completely shattering the wall between independent academic research and corporate R&D projects?

Nor, should we blind to the evident hypocrisy of Senator McConnell’s rationale for slapping a GOP filibuster on S. 1845 in the first place,

“We’re now in the sixth year of the Obama administration,” McConnell said. “We all know the stock market’s been doing great. So the richest among us are doing just fine. But what about the poor? What about working-class folks? … Well, record numbers of them are having a terrible time.” [LAtimes]

Yes, indeed they are.  Thanks to the Trickle Down Theory, Supply Side Hoax, and Austerity Politics of the Republican Party.

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Filed under anti-immigration, Economy, Immigration, Politics

A Little Common Sense and Economic Literacy Required

The GOP filibuster of the bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits for “long term” unemployed people was broken by a 60-37 vote in the U.S. Senate [vote 2] with both Nevada Senators voting in favor of the cloture motion.  The bill will now move over to the House side where passage is less certain.

While Senator Heller (R-NV) is anxious for us to know that he’s “still a conservative,” [WaPo Fix] he’s also representing a state with a heavy 3.9% long term unemployment rate.  [BusinessInsider]

How They Voted – States with 3% or higher long term unemployment

Rhode Island  4.1%   Reed (D) Whitehouse (D) Yes

Nevada 3.9% Reid (D) Heller (R) Yes

New Jersey 3.9%  Booker (D) Menendez (D) Yes

Illinois 3.7% Durbin (D) Yes Kirk (R) No

California 3.7% Boxer (D) Feinstein (D) Yes

Mississippi 3.6% Cochran (R) Wicker (R) No

North Carolina 3.6% Hagan (D) Yes Burr (R) No

New York 3.5% Gillibrand (D) Schumer (D) Yes

Georgia 3.5% Chambliss (R) Isakson (R) No

Florida 3.3%  Nelson (D) Yes  Rubio (R) No

Michigan 3.3% Levin (D) Stabenow (D) Yes

Pennsylvania 3.0%  Casey (D) Yes  Toomey (R) No

South Carolina 3.0% Graham (R)  Scott (R) No

These “no” votes make no economic sense.   First, we ought to look at some of the statistics related to unemployment in this country.  The BLS report for November 2013 on characteristics of those unemployed show that of the 10,271,000 unemployed persons in the U.S. 5,400,000 were those who had been laid off or who had finished temporary jobs.   For some 4,448,000 these were not temporary lay offs.  3,329,000 were permanent job losses.  1,160,000 were those who had completed temporary jobs.

Secondly, we should look at where the jobs are increasing.  The last comprehensive report issued in November shows some pockets of economic activity which aren’t promising.  For example, in the health care and services category showed increases in most subcategories, approximately 4,000 nursing home care jobs were lost. [BLS]   While mining and logging showed general growth, support services for mining were down 3.1%.  The manufacturing sector slugged along, with significant employment up for motor vehicles and parts, up 6.7%.  Transportation equipment manufacturing was up 4.9%, and fabricated metal products related employment increased by 3.1%.

In the retail sector of the U.S. economy there was more mixed news.  Employment in electronics and appliance stores down 3.6%, in food an beverage stores down 5.4%, in health and personal care stores down 3.4% in a sector which showed an overall 22.3% increase Oct/Nov 2013.  [BLS]

The mixed news created the chart below, indicating that while employment levels were generally higher, this wasn’t necessarily good news for those who were among the long term unemployed (longer than 26 weeks.)

Duration Unemployment 2013Looking at some of the other labor data could indicate some of the employment sector weakness facing the long term unemployed.  Unemployment rates in the construction sector, while far better than in 2012, were still at 8.6% as of November 2013. [BLS]  The unemployment rate in the leisure and hospitality sector was still above the national average at 9%, and unemployment in the agricultural sector was at 9.7%.

Given a situation in which there hasn’t been enough job creation in significant sectors, and in which while employment has generally improved, there remain pockets of losses, and what we don’t want to create are more “discouraged workers.”

BLS Table A-16 puts paid to the conservative theme that the unemployed are sitting on the stoop swilling beverages of choice and “taking” a living from “hard working Americans.”

Discouraged Workers 2013The number of Americans “marginally attached” to the labor force declined from 2,505,000 in 2012 to 2,096,000 in 2013, meaning that there was a decrease in the number of persons “who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.”

There was also a decline in the “discouraged worker” category, from 979,000 in 2012 to 762,000 in November 2013.   Discouraged workers  are categorized as “those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for reasons such as thinks no work available, could not find work, lacks schooling or training, employer thinks too young or old, and other types of discrimination.”  These people obviously didn’t drop into the infamous “other category” because those numbers also declined.

Others is a category which “Includes those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for such reasons as school or family responsibilities, ill health, and transportation problems, as well as a number for whom reason for nonparticipation was not determined.”  Those numbers dropped from 1,526,000 to 1,334,000 between November 2012 and November 2013.   It’s truly hard to argue that people are willing to avoid work when even at a point at which there are three applicants for every single job available those who have only the most tenuous connection to the labor force are demonstrating a reduction in their numbers.

When the numbers of “marginal, discouraged, and ‘other'” workers are dropping people are obviously NOT willing to accept “dependency” on the government for their income.

If we are truly interested in improved economic growth then we’d be well advised to take both some long term and short term measures to develop it.

Short term activities should include extending unemployment insurance benefits so that people have the wherewithal to continue to seek work.  No one is giving away gasoline to get to job fairs and interviews.  Further, (once more will feeling) such benefits act as a automatic stabilizer for the economy, keeping spending levels from gyrating wildly in times of economic instability.  DB’s been on this topic at least since April 2011.

Long term investments in infrastructure rehabilitation and construction would go a long way toward providing employment to meet short term needs in the construction sector and long term necessities for economic activity.

However, there may be little hope that the 233 Republicans in the House of Representatives (112th Congress) will manage to throw off the shackles of ideology.  We know that Trickle Down Economics is a hoax.  We’ve had thirty years of it.  We know that tax cuts don’t “boost the economy;” had this been the case the Bush Administration would have been wildly successful.  We know that deregulation produced one amazing financial sector collapse. And, we can see from the BLS statistics that unemployed people are leeches on the body politic.

However, all this information and experience didn’t prevent 37 Republican members of the U.S. Senate from voting to sustain their filibuster of the bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits to the long term unemployed — including some from the states which could have definitely benefited from the legislation.

Common sense and a modicum of economic literacy are in order.

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Filed under Heller, Politics, Reid

Harry’s Gambit

ReidSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):  Floor Statement 11/21/2013 –

In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote.”

“This gridlock has consequences. Terrible consequences. It is not only bad for President Obama and bad for the United States Senate; it’s bad for our country. It is bad for our national security and for our economic security.”

“Today the important distinction is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo… This change to the rules regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well.  That’s simple fairness. And it’s something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”  (emphasis added)

The money quote is in the first line.   The motivation comes in the press release wherein Senator Reid states the obvious:

“It is a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even when they have no objection to the qualifications of the nominee. Instead, they block qualified executive branch nominees to circumvent the legislative process. They block qualified executive branch nominees to force wholesale changes to laws. They block qualified executive branch nominees to restructure entire executive branch departments. And they block qualified judicial nominees because they don’t want President Obama to appoint any judges to certain courts.”  (emphasis added)

In short, nominees are being stymied for reasons which are superfluous to the functioning of our courts or to the operation of our executive branch — it’s pure politics.   Reid goes on to explain in a trip down memory lane:

“At the beginning of this Congress, the Republican Leader pledged that, quote, “this Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress.” We’re told in scripture that, “When a man makes a vow… he must not break his word.” Numbers 30-2. In January, Republicans promised to work with the majority to process nominations… in a timely manner by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.

“Exactly three weeks later, Republicans mounted a first-in-history filibuster of a highly qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense. Despite being a former Republican Senator and a decorated war hero, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nomination was pending in the Senate for a record 34 days, more than three times the previous average. Remember, our country was at war. Republicans have blocked executive branch nominees like Secretary Hagel not because they object to the qualifications of the nominee, but simply because they seek to undermine the very government in which they were elected to serve.”

And so it began… it didn’t take the Republican minority a full month to renege on their promise to deal with the backlog of civilian nominees.   Now what?

Oh, wail the Washington Chatterati, this action to reduce the filibusters of judicial and executive will come to grief.  The acrimony will increase!  Uh, if it took the GOP only three weeks to back off from their initial promise not to filibuster qualified nominees, the level of acrimony has already hit the top of the scale.  Not to mention the Republican precipitated Government Shutdown which was not exactly an outstanding example of cooperation and good will.

Not sure if the Gridlock assertion is real?  The full list of civilian nominations in committee is located here.  The list of judicial nominations for the district and circuit courts is available here.  It doesn’t take much imagination to look at the lists and conclude that if the Republican minority in the Senate were to filibuster each and every nominee there would continue to be serious backlogs in our courts for the foreseeable future.   Now, consider the “acrimony factor.”

If the present system, allowing the filibuster of every civilian (including judicial) nominee, were to continue in the Senate, and if the Republicans regained the control of the Senate, then it isn’t inconceivable that the Democratic minority would revert to the same tactics as the GOP in the 113th Congress.  Imagine the judicial system if this were to continue through subsequent Congresses?

The only people who would be served by a completely dysfunctional judiciary are those who are already fulminating about the Evil Government taking their unspecified “freedoms,” the modern anarchists.

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Filed under filibuster, Filibusters, Judicial, Politics, Reid

Justice Delayed and Denied

GavelThe U.S. Constitution is clear on the subject, there will be the establishment of federal courts, and the 7th Amendment guarantees our access to those courts should we decide to bring a suit the value of which is over $20.00 — big money back in 1789.  Further, the Constitution assumes that these courts will function equitably, with no advantage given to one side or the other.  The 6th Amendment guarantees a “speedy and public trial” in criminal cases, and we can safely assume the founders intended to avoid protracted entanglement in our civil proceedings.   Our Republican contingent in the U.S. Congress has other ideas.

“Backed by House colleagues and GOP attorneys general from around the country, Senate Republican leaders are whipping opposition to advancing the nomination of Patricia Millett — or anyone else — for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one notch below the Supreme Court and often has the final word on matters of executive authority.” [TPM]

Why? Because the Republicans argue that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has too many judges assigned to it, and therefore — in terms that are Orwellian in their essence — to appoint new members to fill vacancies is to “pack the court,” a blatant attempt to obfuscate the issues by comparing the appointment of judges to fill vacancies is equatable to FDR’s proposal to add members to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Numbers Game

At the heart of the current controversy is the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals which has 11 judgeships, and three vacancies.  Granting that the D.C. Court of Appeals has the lightest workload in the circuit system, with 1189 appeals filed in 2011 and 1,200 filed in 2012 [UScourts pdf], the number of judges in itself doesn’t make the case for a reduction in the number of judges when it is noticed that there are 1,287 cases pending from 2011 and another 1,369 from 2012.   Indeed, the number of appeals filed and the number of cases pending could be used to support the contention that the appointment of more judges would be helpful to deal with the backlog.

In fact, the 9th Circuit, which has the largest number of cases and judges (3.9% increase in cases filed 2011-2012), has two vacancies and has been slogging along, able to reduce its pending cases by only -0.1%.  [UScourts pdf]

The situation at present is that there are 874 federal judges, and there are 91 vacancies (17 circuit courts of appeal & 74 district courts). Worse still there are 37 instances defined by the U.S. Courts to be “judicial emergencies.”  A judicial emergency is defined as:

Circuit Court  any vacancy in a court of appeals where adjusted filings per panel are in excess of 700;  OR any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where adjusted filings are between 500 to 700 per panel.
District Court any vacancy where weighted filings are in excess of 600 per judgeship; OR any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where weighted filings are between 430 to 600 per judgeship; OR any court with more than one authorized judgeship and only one active judge.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but if U.S. citizens have cases before their federal courts they are in some danger of being in the “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied” category as they wait for openings in dockets for the adjudication of their cases where there is a Judicial Emergency.  Even in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in which there are three vacancies and two nominations, the lack of three judges means slower decisions — delayed is, in essence, denied.

Judicial Appointments by Administration

A look at the chart above lends credence to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) comments on the matter:

Senate Republicans were happy to confirm judges to the D.C. Circuit when Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush were in office. But now that a Democrat serves in the White House, Republicans want to eliminate the remaining three vacant D.C. Circuit Court seats, although the court’s workload has actually grown since President Bush was in office,” he said. “Republicans are using convenient but flawed political arguments to hamstring this vital court and deny highly qualified nominees like Ms. Millett a fair up-or-down vote.” [TPM]

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Filed under Judicial, Politics, Republicans

The Anarchists Among Us

Time Bomb ToyFormer Nevada  Representative Shelley Berkley summed up the situation in Washington, D.C. –

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Medicare the past few weeks as I care for my father. I just don’t know what America’s seniors would do without this lifeline.

Although we may no longer be in an election year, the battle continues for working and middle class families and to protect our most vulnerable seniors and kids.

Another budget showdown is looming. Washington Republicans continue to fight for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other vital programs like Food Stamps and Head Start, while protecting tax breaks for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans.” [e-mail Berkley, 9/27/13]

First, the over-heated rhetoric about the Affordable Care Act is ominously similar to the complaints about  Medicare from the right wing.   To have the government facilitate medical insurance for elderly people is seen in altogether too many minds as an example of ‘parasitic’ government.  So are the programs mentioned in the last paragraph — Social Security should be privatized, Medicare should be changed to a coupon/voucher service, Food Stamps (SNAP) should be eliminated, and Head Start dismantled.

Berkley also touches on the essential problem for Republicans: How to continue to tout the Cult of Individualism while subsidizing corporate activities? 

And we are subsidizing corporations — the libertarian Cato Institute calculates that a family with an annual income of $72,000 is backstopping U.S. corporations to the tune of $6,000 per year.   From Cato’s perspective this is another assault on the Cult of Individualism, from the left it’s an attack on the American middle class.   Common Dreams itemized the expenses.

There’s another issue for the GOP in this morass:  The party, which lauds itself as the Party of Business, is engaged in a government shut down strategy which is patently anti-business.

From the polar opposite position to that articulated by former Representative Berkley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies aren’t happy with the shut down strategy either:

Even though many of the CEOs believe federal spending is excessive and a large budget deficit puts U.S. economic health at risk, they want Congress to pass the spending bill and raise the limit on government borrowing.

“On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 235 other business groups joined the push. In a joint letter to Congress, they urged lawmakers to fund the government past the deadline and to “act expeditiously to raise the nation’s debt limit.”

The letter also said, “It is not in the best interest of the employers, employees or the American people to risk a government shutdown that will be economically disruptive and create even more uncertainties for the U.S. economy.” [Reuters]

Not that some, or indeed any, of these organizations would espouse Berkley’s position, but they do understand that shutting down the government is economically counter-productive.

Worse still the House Republicans have launched their own version of the old Milton Bradley game: “Time Bomb.”  It really doesn’t quite work to celebrate a government shut down, initiated by the House demand that the Affordable Care Act be delayed (when the marketplace exchanges go up tomorrow) and then claim “it’s the other guy’s fault because they aren’t tossing the time bomb back to us fast enough!”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) puts this more nicely:

“Despite pleas from the House of Representatives for quick Senate action that same vocal minority was determined to waste the dwindling hours before a government shutdown. Although every minute that passes puts this country one minute closer to a shutdown – a shutdown that could shatter our economy – they continue to obstruct and delay. But a bad day for government is a good day for the anarchists among us.” [Reid e-mail 9/27/13]

Nailed it.

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Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

The Military Obstacle Course: Sexual Assaults and Systemic Problems

no sexual assaultAt the beginning of last month (May 7, 2013) Nevada Senator Harry Reid expressed his disappointment with reported rise in the number of sexual assaults in the U.S. military [WaPo] By May 8th he was urging fellow Senators to use the military appropriations legislation as a vehicle for reforming the Armed Services’s systemic problems with sexual assaults. [Roll Call] By the first part of June, Senator Reid was more blunt:

“The present program within the military is not working,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday. “Women are being exploited and I’m sorry to report that even men are being exploited sexually, and that’s wrong.” [WaPo]

The Majority Leader’s frankness on the subject, combined with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) commenting that the situation is a “national disgrace,” [WaPo] should yield some long sought Congressional action.  However, the “Brass” aren’t having it. Eleven of the twelve leaders of the U.S. military who testified at the latest Senate hearing were men; all wanted One More Chance to change the system within the “Chain of Command.”

The top of the U.S. Army chain of command, General Dempsey told the panel: “I’ll speak for myself: I took my eye off the ball a bit in the commands I had,” Dempsey said. “When you tie it all together, I wouldn’t say that we’ve been inactive, but we’ve been less active than we probably need to be.” [WaPo]

You think?  Obviously someone’s eyes were not on the target, and it would appear a large number of individuals within the military were “less active” than they “probably need to be.”  Probably?  Instead of “probably,” let’s insert “unambiguously should have been.”

The first hurdle for the commanders to face is the command structure itself.  The military is different from other institutions in this country — and the concept of the chain of command in crucial to its fundamental operations.  However, when the chain becomes tangled in motivations involving advancement combined with the adjudication of criminal behavior there may be no way to resolve the issues inside the chained structures.

There’s that  moldy old adage — a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.  What happens when it is a superior who is perpetrating the assault?

“One former soldier told Parrish’s group (Protect Our Defenders) in a statement that she was sexually harassed and ultimately raped by a superior while deployed in Iraq.  The woman said she reported the assault to several officers in her chain of command, but was told that she’d be charged with adultery if she pursued the complaint. One officer even told her that he had mentioned the incident to her attacker, who said she had come onto him — and that she should be charged with harassing him.” [PBS]

The motivation for this mistreatment may run the gamut from sheer mean-spiritedness to concerns about promotion — in the military “if you aren’t moving up you’re moving out” — what unit commander wants to be the one to call his or her superior with the bad news that a rape has been reported in his or her command?

There are weak links in the upper portions of the chain as well.  Some recent examples are (1) Lt. General Susan J. Helms USAF whose promotion has been blocked by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) because General Helms granted clemency to a convicted sex offender without explanation.  [WaPo] (2)  Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, after he tossed out the sexual-assault conviction of a fighter pilot.  [WaPo]   General Franklin just couldn’t believe that a pilot who was a “doting father and husband,” would commit a rape.  [WaPo]  It’s important to note that neither of these commanders are judges, or lawyers, and neither attended the trials of the convicted felons in question.   Both were advised by legal experts not to grant clemency or to toss out the cases.   The current Krusinski  case isn’t helping:

“The latest embarrassment struck Sunday, when Arlington County police arrested the chief of the Air Force’s sexual-assault prevention branch and charged him with sexual battery. Police said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was drunk when he approached a woman in a Crystal City parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. Maj. Mary Danner-Jones, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said Krusinski was “removed from his position immediately” when the Air Force learned of his arrest.”  [WaPo]

The testimony of the JCS concerning the handling of the sexual assault problems such as those mentioned above didn’t impress Iraq veteran and House member Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):

“We must provide accountability, which includes ensuring an independent, transparent, fair process for all reports of sexual assault, outside of the chain of command,” Gabbard said.  Gabbard, who remains a member of the Hawaii National Guard, said it “sickens” her that violent crimes occur in the ranks. “This is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.  […] “It is our collective responsibility to bring an end to this epidemic, prosecute these offenders, and provide a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault, upholding the honor and integrity and that make our military strong,” she said. [Army Times]

Representative Gabbard may very well have highlighted the source of the military dilemma — the problematic confluence of individual command and accountability with the need to take collective action to insure the safety of our troops.   If this conflict of interest cannot be resolved within the military command structure, then the military might take a look at the system used by police departments — which also take command structures very seriously — for some guidance.

The second hurdle might be the ability to conceive of an independent review as essential to the operations of a structured unit.  We’ve been down this path before.   During the 1970s police departments in this country were actively engaged in a national debate about independent review boards and agencies.  Most of the opposition to the creation of independent review panels came from police mutual aid societies, police unions, police officials, and conservative interest groups.

Community and public advocacy groups were concerned that police departments were no longer perceived as neutral, dispassionate, or impartial when dealing with some segments of various communities.   [Duke Law, pdf]  The U.S. military may be seen in an analogous position if prominent commanders like Helms and Franklin aren’t considered impartial arbiters of justice.  The military’s position may be even more tenuous if the perception is that whatever “Sarge” wants “Sarge” will get.

For all the controversy over the creation of independent review departments and agencies, the system has worked reasonably well and is in place in most major police departments.  As the International Association of Chiefs of Police observes, the system isn’t perfect, but it is a tool useful in developing better community relations and effective policing:

“Accountability is built and maintained through diligent attention to many facets of the police enterprise, ranging from entry-level selection practices, to ethics and integrity, training, supervision, misconduct policies, and performance evaluation. It is important to place citizen review in its proper context. Citizen review is but one tool among many that can be used to promote and ensure accountability. It is neither a cure-all nor likely to promote desired results unless accompanied by a full package of accountability-building strategies. Over-reliance on these mechanisms can bring disappointment to a community.”  [IACP]

The third hurdle in this obstacle course relates to the point made by the police chiefs, i.e. there are no silver bullets.   The creation of independent review panels won’t be a magic solution so long as a culture of toleration toward assaults obscures the mission of the military.  A culture of toleration won’t be ameliorated by training sessions if the sessions aren’t supported by action.  Actions, such as prosecutions, won’t be the complete response if they aren’t accepted as just by the victims, seen as impartial by the communities, and aren’t substantiated by appeals and reviews.

The fourth hurdle is all too easily forgotten.  Military recruitment in the wake of the Iraq War.  The situation was so dire the Army lowered its standards not once but twice in order to meet recruiting demands.  Defense Department reports in 2008 indicated:

 “In order to meet recruitment targets, the Army has even had to scour the bottom of the barrel. There used to be a regulation that no more than 2 percent of all recruits could be “Category IV”—defined as applicants who score in the 10th to 30th percentile on the aptitude tests. In 2004, just 0.6 percent of new soldiers scored so low. In 2005, as the Army had a hard time recruiting, the cap was raised to 4 percent. And in 2007, according to the new data, the Army exceeded even that limit—4.1 percent of new recruits last year were Cat IVs.” [Slate]

This, in addition to reports from 2007 that the military was relaxing standards concerning criminal records:

“It has also increased the number of so-called “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal pasts, even as the total number of recruits dropped slightly. The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army’s moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.  The number of waivers for felony convictions also increased, to 11 percent of the 8,129 moral waivers granted in 2006, from 8 percent.”  [NYT 2007]

There are documented cases of “waiver” members of the military who have conducted themselves dishonorably to the discredit of our Armed Forces — and country.  [Feres Doctrine, download]  As long as the U.S. Armed Forces are required to downgrade standards for intelligence and moral behavior we ought not to become too alarmed by the consequences when some who have been engaged in serious misdemeanors before recruitment indulge a predilection for anti-social  behavior thereafter.

The fifth hurdle presents itself as the form of the  training these recruits (and officers) receives.   Francine Banner’s work on the Feres Doctine adds some insight:

“Until very recently, the DoD response to rising rates of sexual assault has been to engage in “soft” approaches, such as advertising campaigns and lighthearted presentations, such as “Sex Signals” and “Can I Kiss You?” Campaigns such as “Ask Her When She’s Sober,” “What a Rapist Looks Like” and “Bystander Intervention”  perpetuate the perception that most sexual assaults occur in a “he said/she said” situation in which anyone could cross a line.  “(Primarily male) troops are not encouraged to cease sexually pursuing (primarily female) co-workers but to become better at recognizing the “signals” those co-workers are sending.”  [Feres Doctrine, download]

Unfortunately this type of “education” merely serves to perpetuate the “boys will be boys unless the girls really really really say No” mentality, and the boys aren’t necessarily warned off unwarranted and unwanted behavior — just informed how to interpret the “no” signals which should in all likelihood never have been necessary in the first place.  The Army appears to be making some progress toward a more enlightened approach in its current SHARP program, in which members of the service are encouraged to “Intervene, Act, and Motivate” others to denounce sexual misconduct.

Even with the well intentioned answers to common questions about sexual assault and harassment in the SHARP website, the problem of reporting still remains…  the site gives all the usual advice one might receive from a local police officer, but the reporting will still be predominantly within the chain of command.  A person in command who has no more sexual assault prevention training than the advertising and “soft” touch videos may not be the best person to determine whether a case should proceed.

Navigating the Course

The first thing the JCS may wish to consider is either dropping its opposition to independent prosecution of sexual assault and related crimes, or at the least creating an independent review panel charged with the oversight and accountability of the prosecutions.  The second is to divest itself of any notion that a single approach will cure the problems — just as the modern Armed Forces are tasked with fighting asymmetrical operations they need to understand sexual assault as a multifaceted issue.   Further, we need to give serious consideration to the quality of the individuals being recruited into the U.S. military — reducing the number of “moral waivers” would be advisable.   If there is one thing the Armed Forces generally do well it’s training.  Since the Army has already determined its previous attempts at training in this realm were unsatisfactory, its endeavors to improve should be congratulated but continually monitored for efficacy.

All in all, Senator Reid is correct, the current system is not working. However, it’s going to take more than legislation, more than structural  reforms, and more than better recruitment and training to solve the problem.   It will take a truly Zero Tolerance attitude unencumbered by outdated attitudes and inadequate incentives for change.  And, we need this done by “yesterday.”

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Filed under Defense Department, Women's Issues