Posted on | June 10, 2013 | No Comments
Article first published as Our Best and Brightest? on Blogcritics.
Over the last few months there were a some startling cases of sexual assault in the armed forces brought out into the light. The brutality and seeming frequency of these cases caused even more investigation into the culture promoted inside the armed forces and what they were doing to help combat this despicable and heinous pattern. What they found was even more shocking:
The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of “unwanted sexual contact,” a huge jump from the 19,300 figure in the 2010 report. (CNN)
This in and of itself is bad, but put that on top of the recent cases of officers being arrested and charged with sexual assault while simultaneously being in charge of the prevention of the very same crimes they were committing. An Air Force head of the sexual assault prevention unit charged with sexual battery. An Army officer also in charge of their sexual assault prevention unit charged not only with assault, but with forcing subordinates into prostitution. Lastly, before these cases even came to light, the firestorm was initially touched off by an Air Force general who took it upon himself to reverse a jury verdict in the case of fighter pilot found guilty of sexual assault by an all male jury. What we see is not only the pattern of abuse, but the more insidious pattern of coercion, appeasement and acceptance that goes into covering it up.
This week a large panel of the highest ranking officials from all branches of the armed forces came before Congress to explain how they intended to deal with this issue, which represents nothing less than a stain on the moral code of our fighting forces. One of the immediate and direct actions being suggested to them is commanders in the various forces no longer take the lead in cases of this nature or other violent crimes. All those cases would be funneled outside the chain of command to a third-party law enforcement group, who would then decide whether to prosecute based on the facts involved. The panel roundly rejected this idea claiming it would decrease, possibly destroy, military readiness and unit cohesion.
I have a particularly hard time imagining a woman or man who was attacked by one of his own fellow officers still feeling a lot of “unit cohesion”, especially when they find reporting it to their commanding officers goes nowhere in many cases. This fact alone in who they have to report to is one of the driving factors behind an estimated majority of unreported cases. The soldiers fear retaliation from inside their unit, retaliation from their direct commanders and even further rejection of future promotions or advancements because they made the choice to speak out instead of keeping quiet. The panel also seemingly refused to admit the fears they have about the detriment to the chain of command are hollow since other countries, such as Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom, have already put this practice into place and seen no such damage. Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) brought this up during the hearing,
“Israel in the last five years, because they have prosecuted high level cases, you know what has increased by 80 percent?” she asked. “Reporting.” (ThinkProgress)
Adding more fuel to the fire were patently ridiculous defenses brought up by people like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Sessions tried to blame porn and society for people being raped in the military, while Chambliss went a little more subtle by reminding everyone that the average age of our soldier is 17-23 years old and nature just fills those young people with such high hormone levels. I mean what can we possibly do to stop nature?
This is where the argument becomes not only demeaning to logic, but to the soldiers and armed forces of our country. The whole ethos, the belief system behind our volunteer force is that we respect their sacrifice and their service, but we also respect them because they represent the best and the brightest of our country. They are not only warriors, but beacons of moral and ethical strength in which we trust the most heavy and important choice in this life; whether or not to kill another human being. Once we start making excuses for them about why they are allowed to sink to such levels of depravity and disrespect, then we have lost the very meaning behind what they represent. No one says it is an easy life as a soldier and I hold those who make that choice in extremely high regard, but when they put on that uniform they become more than just another person, they are a symbol and they need to respect that symbol not only in themselves, but in each and every one of their fellow officers. For these senators and others to attempt these poor defenses of this kind of conduct creates a sad impression of their own ethical reasoning, but an even sadder impression of how they see our soldiers.
Posted on | May 30, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
The political comedy world will lose one of its most colorful targets in 2014 when Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) steps down. Now she hasn’t said anything about whether or not she’ll prep for another run at the White House, but at this point in time I think its more likely shell take either the Palin/Cain/Huckabee route onto her own spot of Fox News or the DeMint route and become the figurehead of a major conservative lobby group-cum-think tank. Either way, its doubtful she will be out of the political spotlight completely and due to that fact she will still be as dangerous to informational landscape as she is now, spouting falsehoods and fear to any microphone and camera in reach.
Yet I don’t fault her for stepping down. She barely made it back to her seat in 2012 and the winds are shifting against her style of far-right extremism. Her home state just voted to allow gay marriage, something she vehemently opposed. It was becoming all too clear that she represented less and less of the people in her state, so maybe the moral and right thing to do was step aside and let the people find someone else who will accurately and honestly follow their lead. She said in her announcement video the her decision has nothing to do with doubting her ability to be re-elected, but just putting that into the video I believe proves how much of a factor that really was.
What she didn’t mention in the video was the current FBI investigation into accusations of improper usage of campaign funds during her short-lived presidential campaign. The vision of her being brought up on charges during her time in Congress or even removed from her seat may have also played a factor in her surprising exit from stage far right.
But like Palin and all the other voices screaming from the fringes, they will never truly be without a home, a digital one at least, on Facebook.
Posted on | March 25, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
From the midterm elections of 2010 we saw a huge influx of Tea Party endorsed candidates hit the floor of the House and Senate. In the two years between that and the next general election those freshman created an astounding laundry list of obstructionist actions not only against the Democrats and the White House, but against their own party. They seemed hell-bent on following their unmistakably simple philosophy of “government is too big” and they were there to cut the legs, arms, pretty much any outstretched limb off of the lumbering monster stealing all their rights.
Then the 2012 election happened and the Republican Party felt the burn of co-opting the Tea Party when their seemingly solid chance to take back the Senate went up in smoke behind the blunders of Todd Akin, Richard Murdock and others. On top of that, other firebrands from this fledgling caucus also vacated their barely warm chairs in the House, like Allen West and Joe Walsh.
Yet it wasn’t all rainy days for the Tea Party that night because in walked their new poster boy, someone to make all the other flamethrowers in the Congress sit down, watch and learn how the masters do it. In walked freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In his short time in power, barely three months, here is a brief list of his accomplishments:
- sponsored the 35th failed attempt to repeal Obamacare (which every Republican in the Senate voted for.)
- questioned Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) about her new version of the Assault Weapons Ban, comparing “banning bazookas to banning books.” Let’s say she, and many others in the room, did not respond to the remark too kindly.
- objected to commemorating Multiple Sclerosis Week. Yep, a purely symbolic action that passes every single year without notice and this year passed the House with every Republican vote in the “yes” column, Cruz was able to find something objection worthy in that.
This is where the Tea Party is taking the country, down a road of rampant denial of facts, rational thought and open reactionary politics. Cruz and his cohorts have no interest in governing. Their passion lies in popularity, fundraising and climbing the cable news ladder to a point where they get mentioned daily, if not hourly. They create a fictional landscape where suddenly they are the national power brokers and everything will have to come by their desk before it can pass.
Think that sounds too extreme? Listen to the recent quote from fellow Republican rebuffer, libertarian offspring, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY):
Immigration will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution.
No point in mentioning the Gang of Eight, built from top Democrats and top Republicans, who are already fast at work on Immigration reform. Nope, according to Paul, that will have no chance of passing unless they appease him and others like him.
The Republican party is no longer fracturing, it’s done. The schism is deep, wide and not easily bridged by soundbites and half-hearted handshakes (here’s looking at you, McCain.) Cruz is leading the media circus spotlight into the shame-soaked past of Joe McCarthy and there seems little the Republican party can do to stop him. It will be at least two years of this hyperbolic nonsense, none of which has the least bit to do with real governing. If he, Paul and the others continue carrying the banner of “compromise is a four-letter word”, you might hope they would lose in the next general election, but I wouldn’t place your bets on that just yet, Cruz’s antics may disturb and annoy those he works with, but the folks back home are loving it.
Posted on | March 19, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
Once again we have borne witness to a horrible, unimaginable tragedy. Played over and over again we hear the lurid details and disgusting facts, visualizations that should make you want to turn away from it all. It will leave a black mark not only on an entire town, but also on a culture that permits and sometimes even applauds the circumstances that led us here.
Of course, if you were watching the news yesterday, you could very well think the tragedy is two young boys are now heading off to juvenile prison for rape. Take a moment and think about that.
In report after report broadcasters around the cable news landscape struggled to find a new angle to play and when the sentences came down they got their goldmine. The two defendants stood one after the other to offer their apologies for their actions. The first was quiet and curt, but the second broke down into tears professing his heart wrenching sorrow and guilt over his actions on that fateful night. The news cameras had their magic moment of pure sadness and emotion, but it came with one small problem: HE WAS THE RAPIST!
From that moment on it was talk of “their promising careers”, “college football scholarships gone”, “the lifelong label as a sex offender which could keep them from getting gainful employment”, and so on and so on. For most of the day there was nary a mention of the 16-year old girl who was raped, photographed and indiscriminately humiliated. It is true that no one could to mention her by name since she is underage, but that didn’t account for the insane amount of auditory hand wringing going on over the sad fate of these two young men.
Let’s also not forget that if they were tried as adults the chance was for up to 25 years instead of a minimum of one and two years respectively with a maximum of up to their 21st birthdays. For the severity and depravity of the crime, the utter lack of human compassion that was on display that night, their sentence is a gift.
I’m not denying the one who broke down in tears feels bad for what he did, but let’s not forget that he and his fellow defendant pled “not guilty” when the charges were first brought up. This shows that either they felt what they did that night wasn’t such a bad thing or that he didn’t want to see the rest of his life get tarnished and possibly thrown away due to one night of horrible choices. Those horrible choices are what the media should have given voice to throughout the day yesterday along with the original life destroyed, that of the young girl.
While I admit that I heard CNN and Anderson Cooper giving a full throated defense of the victim today and calling for a strong hard look in the mirror for society as a whole, I was struck by how issues like this and others lately have come into a terrifying unity of blaming the victim. In the abortion debate, contraception mandates, HPV vaccines, the Violence Against Women Act, all of these faced strong opposition (some still do) that centers around an idea that the women don’t need, don’t want or don’t deserve help. During the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound story in Virginia, this attitude was given a name: slut shaming. If the girl is in the situation, she got there herself and should deal with the consequences. Today that phrase was given even more credence when two other young girls in the same town were arrested for making physical threats against the victim over Twitter. You see, because it was her fault.
There is no immediate cure for this ailment in our society, but we can and must take the small, continuous and meaningful steps in our own lives to help roll this tide of human depreciation back into the seas of time gone by. We are better than the actions those boys felt so easy to take that night, we are better than the initial media response to the sentencing and we are better than anyone who tries to create sunlight and distance around this inarguable truth:
Rape is Rape.
Posted on | March 18, 2013 | No Comments
Each year around the holidays we start to hear the familiar banter, people mulling around the break room trading gift ideas and possible vacation spots (for those people who can afford it). Yet outside the workplace and the homes of the holiday revelers there is a predictable chant coming loud and brash through the voices of the conservative right, “Put Christ back in Christmas!”
At first this might seem like a harmless outcry reminding people that the original intent of the holiday was for people of the Christian faith to pray and give thanks on the day of Christ’s birth, not to spend millions and millions of dollars on material things, basically an antithesis to his teachings. If that were all it was, I’m right there with you. Everyone could use a good reminder each year that it is not material things that make us happy, but all those intangibles we can’t get on the shelves of our local Target (but admittedly I keep looking there.)
Yet the clarion call is not about commercialism as much as it is a threat, a nightmare scenario storyline where Christians imagine waking up in a future where Christmas is completely wiped off the calendar by the liberal politically correct elite and their infamous mantra, “Happy Holidays.”
Somehow businesses and everyday folks choosing to use terminology that respects everyone’s religion, or lack thereof, equally is a death knell for true supporters of Christmas, like former Governor and former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Her upcoming book, A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas, slated to hit the shelves in late November, is just in time for the shopping season which she rails against in the description.
Even though she is no longer a paid commentator on Fox News, she is keeping the yearly trope alive claiming that there is a war on Christmas, which she will now vociferously defend by making money off of her holiday book. The irony is mildly astounding. Just mildly.
Jon Stewart has talked about this and the greater theory of the so-called war on Christianity as a whole. He mentioned once to his guest that it seemed like the continued efforts to recognize all religions as equal was being twisted into an attack one alone. Once again, Stewart managed to cut through all the noise and shine a bright light on the dark secret. There are some in particular positions of influence who fear Christianity being lowered down from its self-imposed pedestal and forced to worship and celebrate its holidays right alongside all the others. They see this democratization and leveling of the spiritual playing field as demeaning and degrading to them instead of uplifting and constructive to everyone else.
Celebrating other holidays, which were there on the Roman calendar hundreds of years before Christmas, is a matter of equality, compassion and understanding that there are millions upon millions of people in this country of other faiths and none have a monopoly on the month of December. Palin, and numerous others, will continue their rants about a claim on this country and its spiritual health, but as seen by the specific timing of her book launch, I imagine that will only last as long as the profits.
Posted on | March 13, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
The most powerful Republican in the Senate has begun in earnest his bid for re-election, a full twenty months before the election. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is reportedly making an ad buy in the “low six figures” for his first political spot in a race that no one else has officially declared running against him.
Some people are going to look at this as a sign of weakness and it certainly does speak of a certain trepidation for the current minority leader. You might wonder why someone in such a powerful position would feel the need to begin shoring up support so early, but let’s remember that McConnell openly spoke this now infamous line:
“the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
This was in 2010 and it showed a glaring lack of understanding of what his real job was. Sure, for his party the goal is always to get back into power, take back the White House and the Senate, but his number one priority should always be to help move the country forward and protect the interests and well-being of his constituents. Instead of even harboring the idea that working with Obama could achieve those goals, he set out and led an obstructionist campaign unprecedented in recent political history.
Maybe, just maybe, the voters in Kentucky are looking for someone who actually wants to make things happen in Washington, instead of just making things not happen.
Another key to this is while she has not signed any official paperwork, well-known actress and liberal activist Ashley Judd is strongly considering running against him. She has made all the necessary contacts and talked to all the right people. Word on the wire is an official announcement will come, but no set time yet. She will likely have a huge influx of support and money from Hollywood friends and the Democratic Party, but she’s going to need every cent since McConnell reportedly has a war chest of nearly eight million dollars on hand to fight this battle.
That set’s up his attack from the left, but the bigger question in my mind is whether he will be primaried from the right. The Republican Party is still embroiled in a self-destructive “cleansing” led by the Tea Party faction and we’ve seen how well that played out for them in 2012. This race will likely become the most watched of the 2014 cycle and most certainly will have the deepest effect on the makeup of the Senate and possibly the legacy of Obama’s second term.
Posted on | March 12, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
A small town in Maine was set to vote last night on a largely symbolic measure requiring every resident in the town to own a firearm. The idea was brought up in response to the national conversation on new gun legislation in response to the Sandy Hook shootings. It’s not the only place to come up with it either, Georgia already has it in one town (but unenforced) and another one looking to propose it. This particular idea is what happens when people take an important and necessary discussion and turn it into a ridiculous spectacle.
First off, you could never under any guise of legality force people to buy a gun and have it in their home. The freedoms these supporters are supposedly protecting include the freedom to not own a gun, among many others. Also, as mentioned earlier, the vote is completely meaningless in terms of the law since municipalities in Maine are not allowed to create laws about guns. So there you have it, pure theatre, right?
Not quite. It does serve to make a point about people’s opinions about their second amendment rights and whether or not they should be infringed upon. Yet the over-the-top nature of this idea was only born out of the unfounded hyperbolic fear mongering about the government coming to take everyone’s guns away. That straw man argument is driving this debate over a cliff, along with driving the sales of handguns and AR-15′s through the roof. You can make up your own mind if those two things are connected.
I fully appreciate that there are many people out there who love their guns, are responsible gun owners and are not likely to end up in yet another nightly news story detailing another meaningless gun death, yet a number of studies have shown that the same responsible crowd actually supports reasonable gun legislation like universal background checks (which at one point held a record 97% approval rating). So the real question becomes why could something so popular with the mass population of the country still look like it is on its dying breath in the congress?
Do you think any new legislation will get through? If so, which ones?
Posted on | March 11, 2013 | No Comments
On Mar. 4, an Air Force general used his power to overturn a jury-decided guilty verdict against Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson. The charge was aggravated sexual assault against a sleeping woman who was a guest in his home. Beyond dismissal from the Air Force he was also given a year in jail. That’s all tossed out now because one general feels there was not enough evidence for the jury of four service members to find him guilty.
Side note: According to reports he only stopped the sexual assault on his guest when his wife walked in on him. You might think this would qualify as “burden of proof”.
There was a chorus of angry voices from Congressmen and Senators, but none as loudly and forcefully as Senator Claire McCaskill. She took the general openly to task for helping to create and foster an environment where no women in the Armed Forces would now feel safe to come forward about anything resembling sexual assault or rape.
At a time when women are finally taking the slow, yet monumental steps forward in our fighting forces, how can they feel equal when situations like this continue to crop up as reminders that the “old boy’s club” still clings to its vestiges of power?
It’s also worth noting that McCaskill was considered going into the last election cycle as an easy pick off by Republicans until the Tea Party caucus nominated Todd Akin to run against her. His presumptuous and outdated comments on rape and abortion were the key to McCaskill keeping her seat and helping the Democrats to widen their margin in the chamber.
Rape, sexual assault and violence against women in general is a terrible, inexcusable thing no matter where it occurs. In an alley, inside a school, or on a military base, there should be no quarry given to those perpetrators. Those men who still hold the power to make choices like the general should learn that when they excuse the behavior of one man, they lower the moral standing of all men.
Posted on | February 26, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
There is nothing quite the same as watching our government devolve into a childhood tantrum of “I’m rubber, you’re glue.” The newest government-funded boondoggle comes in the form of the sequester, a terrible spending reduction created months ago as a last-minute effort to put an end to our last financial crisis. So, as the President is keen to point out, we are trying to govern a country by lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next, but let’s stick with the one at hand.
Republicans are quick to point out that the idea of the sequester came from the White House, which indeed it did. What they don’t like to admit was they voted for it, so they are not innocent naysayers here. The point of the sequester was to create a guillotine hovering over the economy that would be so violent, so senseless, so patently stupid that no one in the Congress would ever let it come to fruition. The spending cuts on the domestic programs would force the Democrats to accept some entitlement reforms, while the drastic continuation of even more cuts to the military budget would bring the Republicans to the table for the closure of various tax loopholes that benefit very few people in the country.
But now the veil lifts and the White House sees the scary truth about how dedicated, how stubbornly determined the opposition party is to anything labeled “raising taxes”, no matter what the damage done otherwise. Certain members of the right feel this is strong, bitter medicine that the country needs to take, but I’m curious how they’ll feel when the military base closes in their home district and all those jobs are lost. Or what they will tell parents whose children are left out of programs like Head Start because of budgetary cutbacks in education.
They are publicly putting on a strong poker face, but all the while they are attempting to shift the blame for any damage to the economy back onto Obama…remember, this was all his idea.
Obama is taking the megaphone route and jumping from state to state detailing all the federal dollars that will be lost if the sequester goes through. He has learned from watching the Republican party in the last few cycles and is trying to show what he learned. Fear sells. Fear gets votes. He’s playing not only for the sequester, but for the next cycle. A return of the House to Democratic control is not out of the picture and he wants to paint that picture crisply and clearly in the minds of every Republican Congressman.
Boehner, getting painful flashbacks of his life before being Speaker of the House, is responding with his usual deep-toned bravado. “Get off your ass,” he says, referring to the President and the Democratic-controlled Senate. He’s made it a well rehearsed pattern by now. If something comes his way that would be incredibly difficult to get passed or even introduced in his far-right and fanatical House, he just doesn’t do anything at all. He points back to the Senate across the hill and says, “Let them do it first. Then maybe I’ll take a look.”
Rachel Maddow has a long running piece on her show about Boehner being bad at his job and while I think she’s got a growing library of facts to back up her claim, I’m not sure anyone could lead the Republican caucus in the House right now. There are two warring factions, the Tea Party people who are out to gut government as quickly and senselessly as possible and the establishment Republicans who are afraid of being primaried in their home districts to stand up for something they voted for numerous times before.
If it’s leadership both sides keep calling for, then here are two good steps: Obama heads back to Washington and steps off the permanent campaign trail, while Boehner actually crafts a budget proposal or solution that includes some revenues (since that is what poll after poll shows the majority of Americans want). Even if that bill were to fail in the House, he could stand tall and say he stood up to the fanatical faction of his own party and tried to do what was right for the country.
Looking at the news coming out at the end of today, neither of these seems very likely.
Posted on | January 25, 2013 | No Comments
Things don’t always work out the way you want and there are a number of ways you can respond. You can sit back reevaluate what your goals were and see if they really were the best way forward. You can look around and see if there were things in your sphere of control that didn’t work the way you wanted them to. Or, in the most desperate of cases, you can look at the rules governing what you wanted and just change them to fit, that way you don’t need to improve at all. But, you must be careful when choosing that last path because it could have unforeseen consequences that just may throw a big wet blanket on your warm, cozy vision of the future.
Let’s look at the current GOP strategy to switch over the rules in some key states in relation to how they award their electoral college votes during a presidential election. Currently all of the six states in question are what’s called “winner take all” states, meaning whichever candidate wins the popular vote in that state gets all the electoral votes, the whole kit and caboodle What the GOP would like to change at the state level is move them to a “proportional award” based on how many congressional districts the candidate won. If you win eighty percent of the districts, you get eighty percent of the electoral votes from that state. Sounds fair, right? Upon closer inspection, not in the least.
Each of the states in question were ones that voted for Obama or “went blue” in 2012 and some were the same in 2008, yet they have a majority Republican number of congressional districts. This would inevitably lead to the states awarding a higher proportion of their electoral votes to the Republican candidate. The failure to something as basic as fairness comes to light when you drill down and find that if a majority of the voters in that state happened to be in more densely populated districts and leaned their voting power into the Democratic candidate, it would no longer matter because they would be outgunned by fewer votes cast out in the more rural districts.
Rachel Maddow has done extensive coverage of this already, including exposing the GOP signature gerrymandering tool, REDMAP, and much of the credit for this becoming a nationwide story deservedly lands at her desk. Her passion behind the story is well founded because this strikes to the heart of our democracy. The attempt by the GOP is a crystal clear gerrymander of the entire country now that they have done the same at the state level. If successful it would enshrine the Republican candidate for president in all foreseeable elections.
Looking back up to the title of this article, you might be wondering, “How could this backfire? Even if they drop their plans now (which two of the states are already in the process of doing), how does this make their situation worse than before?”
Good question. This James Bond-style sneak maneuver has brought increased sunlight onto the antiquity of the electoral college system and its inherent flaws. Some very determined and well connected folks are putting their shoulders behind a much more big-D democratic idea of “one person, one vote”, all equal value across the entire country. They want to change the presidential election into a national popular vote system; whoever gets the most votes wins. Period.
The reason why this would be bad for the GOP is the current trending of national voting patterns bodes very badly against them. In fact, if this was in place in 2000, Al Gore would’ve been president (not mentioning the fact the electoral college ended up being in his favor as well.)
The voices against this plan say it will unfairly empower larger Democratic states like New York and California against smaller Republican strongholds like Alabama and the deep South. That may be true, but the fact remains it is the most pure and fair way of electing our leaders for a national scale position. Every voice in the country should have equal weight and it would stop us from bombarding only those small handful of “swing states” with all the political ads and television coverage. Ohio and Florida could stop fearing the onslaught of camera trucks on a four-year rotation.
If the GOP are tired (after only two cycles) of losing on a national level, instead of trying to fix the rules in their favor, they should fix their party. They are falling farther and father from the mainstream and relying on increasingly heated and insane rhetoric to draw attention to themselves, but it’s a losing gambit. They need to refuse to allow their party to be hijacked by extremists and let moderation and compromise exist once again as a part of a working government. Then you will quickly see people returning to the tent of the party that once proudly wore the banner of civil rights and equality instead of the one it wears now.