Mojo - 2012...e-sex-marriage

4 Measures in the Defense Authorization Bill That Are Good for Women

| Wed Dec. 5, 2012 3:57 PM PST

The Senate unanimously passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2013 on Tuesday. The giant bill includes four provisions that, if included in the final version of the law, could help women in the military. It's not clear whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will approve any of these measures, but here they are: 

 

  1. Military women who are raped would be able to use their government health benefits to get an abortion. The Hyde Amendment blocks the use of government funds—including government-funded healthcare—for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother is at risk. But under the more strict Pentagon policy, women in the military are blocked from using their health benefits to pay for abortion even if they become pregnant from rape. To correct this disparity, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) authored a measure in the NDAA that would increase access to abortion care for military women. 

  2. The military would be forced to improve how it handles reports of sexual assaults. This provision, from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), requires the military to keep restricted reports of sexual assaults on file for 50 years, so that veterans can access forensic examination records in order to file disability claims and criminal charges against their rapist (if the statute of limitations has not run out). It also requires the Department of Defense to expand its annual report on rape in the military and to set new policies on how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment cases.

  3. Convicted sex offenders would be discharged. According to the DOD's own statistics, 36 percent of convicted sex offenders have been allowed to remain in the military. Right now, only the Navy requires convicted sex offenders to go through the discharge process. This measure, from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, would expand the Navy's policy to all branches of the armed forces.

  4. It would force the DOD to review its policy of excluding women from combat roles. This measure, also from Gillibrand, requires the Pentagon to come up with a plan for lifting its current policy blocking women from serving in combat roles, a policy that is also the subject of a recent lawsuit. The measure doesn't set a hard deadline for changing the rules, but does require the agency to issue a report on the matter within a year.

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Texas Secessionists Have a Political Action Committee Now

| Wed Dec. 5, 2012 10:53 AM PST

Membership in the pro-secession Texas Nationalist Movement has increased 400 percent since President Barack Obama won re-election on November 5—or so the TMN claims. Last week, the group has announced on its website that it's taking the next step: forming a political action committee:

The Texas Nationalist Movement on Tuesday filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission appointing a treasurer for the Texas Nationalist Movement Political Action Committee (TNM-PAC), signaling the organization's most significant venture into the legislative process in pursuit of Texas independence.

TNM president Daniel Miller said the TNM-PAC was formed "for the purpose of supporting and endorsing candidates at all levels that are in-line with the mission, vision and values of the Texas Nationalist Movement."

The Texas Nationalist Movement's foray into the world of campaign finance is its biggest step yet in an effort to enter—and eventually become—the political mainstream. It's also peaceful, which is a noted break from another modern-day Texas secession movement, the Republic of Texas, which was helmed by an eccentric named Richard McLaren who launched an armed invasion and occupation of his neighbor's house in Far West Texas in the 1990s.

TNM-PAC doesn't mention any specific candidates it plans to support, but from the site it's possible to speculate. Perennial candidate Larry Kilgore, who recently changed his middle name to "SECEDE" (yes, allcaps), received 250,000 votes in the 2008 GOP Senate primary and is planning on running for governor in two years. (Among his other issues: instituting the death penalty as a punishment for adultery) The group also touts on its site a November lecture on secession by Wes Riddle, a blogger and historic theater owner who lost a 2010 U.S. House primary despite picking up an endorsement from retiring Rep. Ron Paul.

One candidate TNM-PAC probably won't be supporting: Governor-for-life and occasional secessionist-sympathizer Rick Perry, whose office told the Dallas Morning-News last month that he "believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it."

Do We Really Need to Start the 2016 Election Already?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2012 10:47 AM PST

Memeorandum

The political media is at it again, attempting to convince the general public that the just-finished 2012 presidential election was little more than the first course in a much longer and more grueling meal.

Scanning the top headlines at political punditry aggregator Memeorandum, you might hazard a guess or two about the state of politics this post-election season.

First, you might surmise that all this talk of Hillary Clinton being at the top of the 2016 food chain and the repetition of the names "Rubio" and "Ryan" adjacent to one another in headline after headline, indicates that the media is already circling the wagons around their favorite candidates.

Second, you might guess that this means there's a deficit of current news to keep the fires burning.

The Republican Who Could Kill Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act

| Wed Dec. 5, 2012 10:36 AM PST
Conservative Activist Edward Blum.

You may never have heard of him, but Edward Blum could turn out to be the nation's most successful opponent of laws designed to mitigate racial inequality. Working virtually alone, this failed Republican congressional candidate has helped orchestrate legal challenges that could polish off affirmative action and a key section of the Voting Rights Act. 

According to an illuminating profile from Reuters, Blum, under the auspices of his Project of Fair Representation group, spent three years looking for a white college applicant who had been rejected from her institution of choice despite having adequate credentials. The "former stockbroker" eventually settled on (now) 22-year old Abigail Fisher, who had failed to secure admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Reuters notes that civil rights groups also find candidates to "tee up" cases for laws they don't like, but Blum never actually found the kind of applicant he was looking for, because UT says Fisher's credentials weren't good enough to get into the school in the first place. Blum did find a case: Fisher's challenge to UT's attempt to supplement its color-blind top ten percent admissions policy with race-conscious affirmative action was argued before the Supreme Court this year, and found a slate of conservative justices eager to strike down affirmative action. 

The Fisher case is not Blum's only accomplishment. He's also responsible for helping set up two challenges to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights legislation that ensured black access to the franchise after decades of Jim Crow. Jurisdictions covered by Section 5 have to submit their election rule changes to the Justice Department for pre-approval because of a history of discrimination. Most—but not all—covered jurisdictions are in the South. Jurisdictions can "bail out" with a history of good behavior, but many conservatives still consider the law an anachronistic form of federal overreach because racism is over and stuff. In 2009, Blum financed Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO) v. Holder, which lead to a Supreme Court ruling that left Section 5 hanging by a thread. He's also financing Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which may kill Section 5 once and for all.

What motivated Blum's crusade in the first place? Reuters describes him as a former Democrat whom Commentary magazine and Ronald Reagan converted to conservatism, but suggests that the major catalyst for his legal efforts was a failed congressional bid: 

After noticing that his heavily Democratic district had trouble fielding a Republican congressional candidate in 1990, Blum decided to enter the 1992 Republican primary. He won it, and in the general election faced an African-American incumbent Democrat. When Blum and Lark walked the district to shake hands with voters, he said, he had to carry a map because the borders zigged and zagged. "Multi-ethnic neighborhoods were split apart," he said. "Block by block. Blacks over here. Whites over here. Hispanics over here."

Blum lost by a wide margin. At the time, court challenges were starting to mount over "majority minority" districts like his that had been gerrymandered to consolidate minorities and maximize their voting power. In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that districts appearing to segregate voters by race, even if designed to help minorities, violate the Constitution's guarantee of equality. Blum decided to sue Texas officials, alleging the districts unlawfully segregated voters by race.

So Blum didn't just recruit Abigail Fisher, he kind of is Abigail Fisher. 

Although incumbents can certainly exploit its provisions on minorities and redistricting to entrench themselves, Section 5 also helps prevent things like Republicans deliberately slicing districts so as to deprive Latinos of their political influence on the assumption that Latinos are more likely to vote for Democrats. The Texas GOP actually tried that in 2012, only to be blocked by the Justice Department. Scrapping Section 5 won't stop racial gerrymandering, but it will make the kind of racial gerrymandering Republicans like a little easier. 

If the Blum-financed challenges succeed, colleges will be less diverse—at least while they figure out new ways to foster diversity—and the federal government will be deprived of a key tool for ensuring politicians don't try to disenfranchise voters based on demographic assumptions. Blum's crusade against race-conscious laws may be motivated by his disgust for segregation. But winning at the Supreme Court will have no impact on ongoing racial segregation in American life—although perhaps fewer white Republicans will suffer the life-changing humiliation of losing congressional races to black Democrats.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 5, 2012

Wed Dec. 5, 2012 7:52 AM PST

Cpl. Ben Edwards, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, speaks with Afghan Local Police 3rd Lt. Shah Mohmmad, during a patrol around the area of Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Walters

The GOP Channels Romney on Latest Debt Deal Offer

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 2:11 PM PST

Republicans have apparently taken a cue from presidential loser Mitt Romney on how to put together a budget plan: Explain nothing. House Speaker John Boehner's latest offer, issued Monday, proposes serious reductions in spending, but fails to specify exactly how those cuts would play out in reality, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Exhibit A: The plan proposes $600 billion in mystery healthcare cuts, way more than the widely-touted Bowles-Simpson deficit proposal (which backers say is centrist, and critics say favors business and the wealthy), and way more than Obama's proposal.

CBPP did the wonk work for Boehner, and concluded "the health care cuts in the Republican offer will likely be draconian":

For months, we have studied options to generate savings in this part of the budget, and we can’t get close to $600 billion...with items that wouldn’t seriously hurt low-income and vulnerable individuals.... Some news accounts report the House Republican leaders would raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and increase Medicare premiums for more affluent beneficiaries, although those items are not mentioned anywhere in the new offer. But if so, those measures would raise only about one quarter of the $600 billion.

Republicans' most recent budget offer also includes $300 billion in blanket cuts to "non-health mandatory programs," which includes things like disability benefits and Food Stamps. There are no specifics there, either.

"The proposal is an exercise in 'look Ma, no hands' budgeting," CBPP director Robert Greenstein said in a statement.

An additional $300 billion is slashed from discretionary spending, including education, childcare, and research. Here the CBPP says they can better assess what the damage will be. As the CBPP's James Horney explains, since Republicans aren't going to make any more defense cuts, low-income programs will inevitably be on the table. Conclusion: "Adding large further cuts on top of the steep cuts that [last year's deficit reduction pact] requires would be most unwise," according to Greenstein.

So why the reluctance to include the nuts and bolts on how spending cuts will work out? Math. The CBPP says there isn't enough revenue in Boehner's plan to cover all the spending—not even the cost of keeping Bush tax cuts for the rich and keeping estate taxes low. As a middle-school pre-Algebra teacher might say, "Show your work."

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George W. Bush Instructs GOP: "Immigrants Invigorate Our Soul" (Video)

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 2:11 PM PST

Since the election, some Republicans have begun backing away from the self-deportation rhetoric of folks like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and are getting on board with comprehensive immigration reform. Others in the party are sticking with the hard line. Enter former President George W. Bush with a dose of good ol' compassionate conservative advice for his fellow Republicans: "Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul," he said, reprising his role as immigration reformer at a Dallas conference on Tuesday. "America can be a lawful society—and a welcoming society—at the same time. As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants." 

Watch his conference-opening comments below:

 

Obama to Help Screwed Homeowners (Finally)

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 11:23 AM PST

Remember when Wall Street got $700 billion after destroying the economy, and the tens of millions of people who took out crappy home loans didn't? Well, homeowner problems didn't go away. And though the Obama administration has a pretty abysmal record of assisting homeowners so far, the president could soon make his biggest move yet to help them—by replacing the housing agency head who has blocked attempts to write off some Americans' mortgage debt.

Prominent economists say cutting home loan balances is the single most important thing the administration could do to revive housing, but Obama and Co. only recently began to heed this advice. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner regularly blocked efforts to use TARP bank bailout funds for a mortgage relief program that could have had a real impact on the economy. In 2009, Geithner invoked "moral hazard," claiming that reducing Americans' mortgage debts would incentivize delinquency.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 4, 2012

Tue Dec. 4, 2012 10:26 AM PST

Marines with Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, overlook a work site on Patrol Base Eredvi, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 23, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Alexander Quiles.

VIDEO: Bradley Manning's Lawyer Makes First Public Appearance

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 10:10 AM PST

David Coombs, the lawyer representing Bradley Manning, the jailed soldier accused of leaking sensitive national security documents to WikiLeaks, spoke publicly about the case for the first time last night. 

The event was held in Washington by Manning-supporters to raise money for the defendant. Other speakers included Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo of the National Whistleblower Center.

Coombs spoke about how he doesn't want his client to be tried in the press, Manning's treatment in prison, and why he thinks the court martial system is "by far the fairest." You can see the whole event streamed by C-Span here, or a few excerpts from Coombs in the video below.