2013 - %3, January

Defense Secretary Lifts Ban on Women in Combat

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:55 PM EST

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Wednesday that he's lifting the ban on women serving in combat roles.

The Associated Press broke the news:

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Panetta's decision makes women eligible for another 238,000 jobs in the military. The DoD last changed its rules on this in February 2011, when it opened 14,000 more jobs to women. The ban on women serving in combat roles was the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by four female service members who argued that the policy limited their ability to advance in the armed forces and did not reflect the reality that many women are already serving in combat roles in practice, if not in name.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the four women in that case, issued a statement on Wednesday noting that the group is "thrilled" at the announcement. "But," added Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, "we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."

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GOP Rep. Paul Broun Says Obama Upholds the Soviet Constitution, Doesn't Specify Which One

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:54 PM EST
Official White House photo.

According to a guy who's questioned Barack Obama's citizenship, thinks America is headed for a Leninist dictatorship, and has called evolution and other science "lies straight from the pit of Hell," the president and his congressional allies are taking their marching orders from the Constitution...just not the American one.

"I don't know what Constitution that other members of Congress uphold, but it's not this one," Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway. "I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution, not this one. He has no concept of this one, though he claimed to be a constitutional lawyer.”

The Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. For all his years in the public eye, Barack Obama has only ever had mean things to say about the former Communist stateIt's pretty clear that there's nothing to suggest that President Obama adheres to the "Soviet constitution." What isn't clear is which Soviet constitution Broun was referring to.

During the seven-decade existence of the Soviet Union, the government approved three separate constitutions. There is the one approved in 1924, which defines the "camp of capitalism" as "national hate and inquality, colonial slavery and chauvinism, national oppression and massacres, brutalities and imperialistic wars." The one adopted in 1936 (also called "Stalin's Constitution") actually pays a lot of lip service to universal suffrage, individual rights, health care, and the like. And the constitution adopted in 1977 (also called the "Brezhnev Constitution") praises the Soviet people, their army, and Vladimir Lenin for winning the Russian Civil War and therefore starting the "epoch-making turn of mankind from capitalism to socialism."

I reached out to the congressman's Washington office to ask which of these three he meant. Perhaps Broun was referring to all of them. I will update this post if I get a response.

h/t Pema Levy

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 23, 2013

Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:39 PM EST

Nate Derewecki, an advanced marksmanship instructor with PEO Soldier, instructs a paratrooper on using a thermal imaging scope at night during a four-day, advanced rifle marksmanship course, Jan. 10, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The paratrooper is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Yet More on Government Spending Levels

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:22 PM EST

Last night I posted a chart showing government expenditures per capita over the past two decades. I guess somebody must have linked to it, because my Twitter stream is suddenly full of conservatives claiming that it's all a fake because I showed total government spending (state+local+federal) and then adjusted it for population growth. That's actually the right measure of the total impact of government spending, but apparently my critics want to see just federal spending, and with none of this "per capita" trickery.

I aim to please, so here it is. I assume no one objects to adjusting for inflation? (I used the GDP deflator, in case anyone cares.) As you can see, the chart is a little different from the previous one, but not by that much. Spending spiked up at the beginning of the Obama administration thanks to increased federal aid to people who were thrown out of work by the Great Recession, but since 2011 spending has slowly been sliding back down. Federal spending has stayed somewhat elevated to make up for declining state and local expenditures, which is as it should be during a weak economy, but not by that much. Given our current trajectory, it's safe to say that even by 2016 the biggest increase in spending, by far, will have come during the Bush years.

Fracking Wastewater Threatens to Drown Ohio

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 1:55 PM EST

First, the good news: Using the process known as hydraulic fracturing to create natural gas wells produces less wastewater than wells created using more conventional methods, according to a new study in the journal Water Resources Research. Scientists from Duke and Kent State universities found that fracked wells create 35 percent as much wastewater per unit of gas when compared to conventional wells. The scientists note that this upsets the common idea that fracking creates more wastewater than other types of gas extraction.

But now the bad news. Because of fracking, gas extraction is up 570 percent since 2004 in the Marcellus shale region, which means that there's a whole lot more wastewater overall to deal with.

Because of fracking, gas extraction is up 570 percent since 2004 in the Marcellus shale region.

"On one hand, shale gas production generates less wastewater per unit," explained co-author Brian Lutz, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State. "On the other hand, because of the massive size of the Marcellus resource, the overall volume of water that now has to be transported and treated is immense. It threatens to overwhelm the region's wastewater-disposal infrastructure capacity."

And while most of that fracking is taking place in Pennsylvania right now, Ohio is taking a huge portion of the wastewater. As the Akron Beacon Journal points out, Pennsylvania's 6,400 active wells created 20 million barrels of wastewater in 2011, and about 35 percent of it—7 million barrels—was disposed of in injection wells in Ohio, accounting for more than half of the wastewater Ohio dealt with.

Ohio can't do much to stop Pennsylvania from shipping its wastewater over the border due to the interstate commerce clause in the Constitution, which stipulates that only Congress can regulate this type of interstate trade. The best the state can do is set tougher rules on disposing of that wastewater, which has been discussed but not acted upon. Citizens in Mansfield, Ohio, voted last year to block injection wells in their town, however.

Hillary Clinton Treats John McCain With Exactly the Respect He Deserves

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 1:22 PM EST

Dave Weigel describes the GOP approach to Hillary Clinton's long-awaited testimony on the Benghazi attacks:

Watching it, I'm struck by the division between two kinds of Republicans. Group One has questions about the timing of the Benghazi attack, what the State Department could have done to prevent it, what it can do now. Group Two wants the truth, damn it, about the talking points that Susan Rice used on the Sunday shows after the attacks.

Group One basically consisted of Marco Rubio. Group Two was everybody else.

I only watched a few bits and pieces of the testimony, and I missed Rubio. All I saw was Rand Paul grandstanding about how he would have fired Hillary, Ron Johnson being an obvious idiot, and John McCain practicing his glower. All together, I didn't hear a single question that wasn't a transparent partisan attack. Apparently Republican senators are still consumed with rage that their concocted stories about Susan Rice somehow failed to resonate with the public and produce an epic defeat for Barack Obama in November. They're simply unable to get over the fact that their fabricated conspiracy theories, which usually do so well when they're amplified by Fox and Drudge, accomplished nothing more than preventing Rice from becoming Hillary Clinton's successor.

In any case, my favorite part of the testimony was Hillary Clinton's posture toward the end, when she was taking questions from McCain and Rand Paul. It's about what they deserved.

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Young Immigrants Renew Push for Path to Citizenship

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 1:15 PM EST
Cendy, an undocumented immigrant, tells her story for The Dream Is Now.

Undocumented immigrants' moment for political agency may have finally arrived. Obama says he will push for comprehensive immigration reform in the first months of his second term, and Republicans—who realize they can't just rely on old white people to win future electionsare praising similar plans. Now, as immigration proposals begin to take shape in Congress, the grassroots are rustling, too. Activists launched a new online campaign on Tuesday, called The Dream Is Now, pushing for the passage of DREAM Act-style legislation to give permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Created by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs—both education activists—the campaign's centerpiece is an "interactive documentary," where undocumented young people can "come out" as noncitizens and tell Americans how DREAM Act provisions would affect them. The immigrants, their families, and friends can also post photos and sign a petition to tell Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth. The Dream Is Now is all over the social medias, too (#thedreamisnow).

California School District Spent $14,000 on New Semi-Automatic Colt Rifles

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 1:12 PM EST
The Colt 6940 semi-automatic rifle.

When the public school students of Fontana, Calif., returned to classes in January, something had changed about their schools. Specifically, the Fontana Unified School District had filled on-campus safes with $14,000 in new Colt 6940 semi-automatic rifles for its 14 police officers. The high-powered, long-distance rifles will only be used in "extreme emergency cases."

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the Fontana school district's heavy arming of its campus cops has stirred a controversy in the local community. One school board member, Leticia Garcia, told the Times that police officials and school administrators acted without consulting local Fontanans, a grave mistake given the ongoing national debate around guns and schools. "It was not vetted by the board and not vetted by the community," Garcia said.

Each Colt 6940 rifle, with an upper receiver originally designed for US Special Operations Command rifles, costs at least $1,000. Here's more from the Times:

The district purchased the rifles in October and they arrived in December, before the tragedy in Newtown, where a gunman killed 26 people—20 of them children—at an elementary school. The shooting sparked a debate on whether armed school guards could prevent these types of tragedies.

The rifles have been on campuses since students returned from winter break in January, said Fontana Unified School District Police Chief Billy Green.

Though the purchase was not spurred by any one event, the rifles are designed to increase shooting accuracy from a distance and provides officers with effective stopping power against assailants wearing body armor. Those capabilities are necessary for officers to stop a well-armed gunman, Green contends.

"If you know of a better way to stop someone on campus that’s killing children or staff members with a rifle I'd like to hear it," he said. "I don't think its best to send my people in to stop them with just handguns."

"I hope we would never have to use it," he said. "But if we do, I'd like them to be prepared."

Can I Donate Money Anonymously on the Internet?

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 12:47 PM EST

OK, hivemind, here's a question for you: is it possible to donate money anonymously other than by sending wads of cash to people? I sometimes want to contribute to a cause without having my name attached, either because I don't want to be put on an eternal mailing list for further donations or because I don't want the recipient to feel obligated to me. Those may or may not be good reasons, but as Donald Rumsfeld once said, you go to war with the reasons you have, not the reasons you wish you had.

So....is there any convenient way to do this? I suppose anonymous money orders or certified checks would work in some cases. How about electronically? Does PayPal have an option to hide payor information? What are my options here?

Raw Data: The Union Premium

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 12:05 PM EST

The Department of Labor released its latest report on union membership today, and it's no surprise that private sector union membership continued its long-term decline, down from 6.9 percent last year to 6.6 percent this year. To give you an idea of what this means in real-life terms, here's the latest data on the difference in wages between unionized and nonunionized workers. It doesn't distinguish between job categories, so it exaggerates the actual premium, but this nonetheless gives you a sense of just what it means to actual people, in terms of dollars and cents, that private-sector union membership has shriveled to almost nothing in recent decades. It's left as an exercise for the reader to figure out who's getting this union premium now that so few corporations have to pay it to their workers.