WASHINGTON -- President Obama should spend his remaining years in office making the United States part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem. If Congress sticks to its policy of obstruction and willful ignorance, Obama should use his executive powers to the fullest extent. We are out of time.With each breath, every person alive today experiences something unique in human history: an atmosphere containing more than 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. This makes us special, I suppose, but not in a good way.The truth is that 400 is just one of those round-number...
These days we are, in economic terms, all Japanese "” which is why the ongoing economic experiment in the country that started it all is so important, not just for Japan, but for the world.In a sense, the really remarkable thing about "Abenomics" "” the sharp turn toward monetary and fiscal stimulus adopted by the government of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe "” is that nobody else in the advanced world is trying anything similar.
At a congressional hearing yesterday with Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services official charged with managing the implementation of Obamacare, Republican legislators charged that Cohen’s agency may be improperly allowing some states to run “assister” programs that pay people to help individuals sign up for the health law’s coverage options. Republicans charged that HHS may not have the statutory authority to fund those programs in states running their own exchanges. That includes states like California, which plans to use a significant part of the...
Henny Youngman, the late borscht belt comedian, told hundreds of politically incorrect jokes. One of them was his response when asked, "How's your wife?" "Compared to what?" he'd say.Many women find the joke tasteless, but it can be a useful framework for thinking about national politics. Americans may not be ecstatic about President Obama and his policies, but compared with the Republicans, they think Obama doesn't look so bad. This might partly explain why, even with all of the controversies engulfing the Obama administration these days,...
The Obama White House has been trying to de-legitimize Fox News almost from the day it took office. Remember the media blitz of 2009 launched by then White House Communications Director Anita Dunn?
Controversy is swirling around the White House, with inquiries into the consulate attack in Benghazi, the IRS' targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s probe of journalists’ phone records. Some Republicans say these issues are emblematic of the how the Obama White House operates. "There is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration. The IRS is just the most recent example," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Meet the Press on May 19, 2013. "... Over at HHS back during the Obamacare debate, Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius sent out a directive to help insurance companies telling them ...>> More
Support for expanding background checks to more gun purchases remains high, according to polls released Thursday. But the surveys provide mixed evidence on how the Senate's defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal might affect future electoral support for opponents of greater background checks.
According to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday and conducted earlier in May, 81 percent of Americans said they continue to back making gun show and private firearms sales subject to background checks, while only 17 percent said they were opposed. A HuffPost/YouGov poll also conducted in early May showed respondents in favor of expanding background checks by a 74 percent to 16 percent margin.
Both the Pew survey and a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that support for the defeated Manchin-Toomey measure, which would have expanded background checks to all gun show and online purchases, is also widespread. In the Pew survey, 73 percent said the Manchin-Toomey proposal should be passed if reintroduced, while 67 percent of respondents to the Post/ABC poll said the Senate did the wrong thing in rejecting the legislation.
Americans were more likely to tell Pew that they supported expanding background checks generally than that they wanted Congress to pass the Manchin-Toomey measure. Much that drop-off occurred among Republicans, 81 percent of whom said they favor greater checks but only 57 percent of whom said they want the specific proposal to pass.
The Pew survey found a close divide between the 50 percent who said it's more important to "control gun ownership" and the 48 percent who said it's more important to "protect the rights of Americans to own guns." But when asked whether they would vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on gun policy even if they agreed on other issues, those emphasizing gun rights were more likely to say no (41 percent) than those emphasizing gun control (31 percent). The former were also more likely to say they have donated money to an organization taking a position on gun policy, by 12 percent to 3 percent. The two groups were about equally likely to say they have contacted an elected official to express an opinion on gun policy.
In other words, the Pew poll confirms the conventional wisdom of an enthusiasm gap in favor of opponents of gun control. But the Post/ABC poll suggests that the enthusiasm edge goes to gun control supporters on the specific issue of background checks.
Among Post/ABC survey respondents who said the Senate did the right thing in defeating background checks legislation, 53 percent said they could still support a candidate who voted for greater background checks if they agreed with that candidate on other issues. But among those who said the Senate did the wrong thing, 55 percent said they could not support an otherwise acceptable candidate who opposed the Manchin-Toomey legislation.
Scott Clement and Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post note that among all registered voters in the survey, 35 percent said they would rule out a candidate who opposed expanding background checks and only 14 percent said they would rule out one who supported doing so. Clement and Sullivan also wrote that there was little difference between those numbers nationally and in states where senators earned high ratings from the National Rifle Association. All of this suggests that background checks are an exception to how Americans usually think about gun control.
On the other hand, the HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted earlier in May found evidence that opponents were the ones paying closest attention to legislation on the issue. Fifty-five percent of background check opponents, but only 40 percent of proponents, said they had "heard a lot" about the Senate's defeat of the measure. That was the case despite apparently high enthusiasm among those in favor of the measure, with 48 percent of respondents (and an equal percentage of registered voters) saying it was "very important" that the Senate expand background checks and another 16 percent saying it was "somewhat important."
The Post/ABC and HuffPost/YouGov polls also found little evidence that the Senate legislation's defeat at the hands of mostly Republican senators (with the help of a few Democrats) has hurt Republicans on the issue of gun control overall.
In the Post/ABC poll, when asked whom they trust more on handling gun control, 42 percent of respondents said President Barack Obama and 41 percent said Republicans -- the same percentages found by a Post/ABC poll conducted before the background checks measure was defeated. That was true even though the poll found that, among those who said the Senate did the wrong thing in defeating the background checks legislation, 64 percent blamed Republicans for the defeat and only 17 percent blamed Obama.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll similarly found that Americans were equally likely to say they trust Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Those who oppose expanding background checks trusted Republicans more, by 87 percent to 6 percent, while those in favor of greater checks were more divided, with 49 percent trusting Democrats more and 24 percent trusting Republicans more.
In fact, the HuffPost/YouGov poll provides some evidence that the Manchin-Toomey measure's defeat may have hurt both Republicans and Democrats. Overall, 36 percent said the defeat left them with a less favorable opinion of the Republican Party, and just 18 percent said it gave them a more favorable opinion. But 26 percent said the defeat gave them a less favorable view of the Democratic Party, and only 11 percent said it gave them a more favorable view. Even Democrats and those who said they favor background checks were more likely to say their opinion of the Democratic Party had fallen than risen, perhaps reflecting the high profile of the four Democrats who opposed the background checks measure.
If the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey legislation has simply led to more frustration with both parties, neither may benefit despite Americans' strong feelings in favor of the measure.
The Pew Research Center poll was conducted May 1-5 among 1,504 randomly selected U.S. adults, and the Washington Post/ABC News poll was conducted May 16-19 among 1,001 randomly selected adults. Both surveys used live telephone interviewers calling landlines and cellphones.
The Huffpost/YouGov poll was conducted May 3-4 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.
After a vicious tornado ripped through her Moore, Okla. home on Tuesday, Rebecca Vitsmun was lucky to be alive. After graciously handling an awkward moment while discussing the aftermath on national television, more good fortune is headed her way.
In a Tuesday interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Vitsmun was asked if she was thanking "the Lord" for deciding to escape home with her 19-month-old son. She hesitated for a moment, before telling Blitzer that she was actually an atheist.
"You are. All right. But you made the right call," Blitzer said, prompting Vitsmun to add: "We are here, and I don't blame anyone for thanking the Lord."
An Indiegogo community called Atheists Unite has responded resoundingly in support of Vitsmun's poise. Over just a few hours from late Thursday into early Friday, 250-plus funders had raised more than $7,000 for her. According to the page, a fundraising goal of $50,000 in assistance has been set.
"It's important that our community shows that we have your back when you come out publicly as an atheist," the campaign page wrote. "Let's show the world that you dont need to believe in a god to have human compassion nor does all charity fall under the banner of religion. Let's get this courageous woman and her family back in their own home."
As of late Thursday, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office listed the EF-5 tornado death toll at 24 people, including ten children. According to the Associated Press, damage estimates stood at $1.5 billion to $2 billion, with as many as 13,000 homes affected by the natural disaster.
A little more than two weeks after introducing her first bill, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is already seeing a wave of strong support.
Back on May 8, Warren announced her plans to set student loan interest rates at the same level big banks receive from the Federal Reserve. Come July 1, some student loan rates are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, prompting Warren to push for legislation that reduces the level to 0.75 percent.
By Thursday, Warren's website showcased that more than two dozen organizations have endorsed the measure. Among the notable supporters were major universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and groups like American Federation of Teachers.
Coupled with the support from outside sources is a strong core of political colleagues behind the bill. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have joined on as co-sponsors, and Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has introduced a corresponding House version of the bill.
In a Tuesday op-ed for the Boston Globe entitled "Banking on our students," Warren and Tierney stressed the other end of the student loan predicament: government profits. Back in mid-May, figures from the Congressional Budget Office showed that the Department Of Education is set to reap a record $51 billion profit from student loan borrowers. From the Globe:
This is not fair. And it’s not necessary, either. The federal government makes 36 cents on every dollar it lends to students. Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the government will make $51 billion on the student loans it issued this year — more than the annual profit of any Fortune 500 company, and about five times Google’s yearly earnings. We should not be profiting from students who are drowning in debt while we are giving great deals to big banks.
By Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) - New U.S. guidelines for conducting armed drone operations overseas set a higher bar for attacking non-Americans and could reduce controversial "signature strikes" targeted at suspicious groups rather than individuals.
But the drone guidelines announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday still include vague language and loopholes that officials could use to conduct more expansive operations.
The new rules, part of Obama's attempts to pull back from what he called "perpetual war-footing" against terrorism, came in a "Presidential Policy Guidance" he signed this week.
Obama "has clearly raised the bar significantly for the use of drone strikes with the very specific and restrictive criteria," said John Bellinger, former State Department legal adviser in President George W. Bush's administration.
"The standard for targeting is now the same for Americans and non-Americans - it must be a continuing and imminent threat of violence to Americans. And there must be a near certainty that no non-combatants will be killed," he said.
"Signature" drone strikes, in which the United States targets suspicious-looking groups of people without knowing their specific identities were first authorized by Bush in 2008, causing a sharp jump in the number of drone attacks.
During his first term in office, Obama stepped up the practice. People not confirmed as terrorist targets of the United States are attacked because they bear the "signature" of militant activity. Such strikes have provoked anti-American unrest in countries like Pakistan because of civilian deaths.
Under Obama's new guidelines, signature attacks are expected to decline, especially after U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, when the need for drone strikes to protect U.S. ground forces will be gone.
The reason for signature strikes is often to help a country like Yemen fight well-organized groups of militants, and targets are frequently brought to the attention of the United States by the Yemeni government, said Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University.
"That's the biggest thing that it appears that they have given up, that we won't be striking on behalf of allies fighting their own wars," he said.
The New America Foundation think tank, which collects data on drone strikes, said 355 drone attacks in Pakistan had killed between 2,010 and 3,336 people, among whom 258 to 307 were civilians. In Yemen, 69 drone strikes have killed between 586 and 819 people, of whom 548 to 748 were militants.
Faced with criticism about civilian casualties, Obama said the United States would only use those drone strikes when a threat was "continuing and imminent," a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat.
Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst, said that was too vague.
"It still leaves questions and doubts. One piece of phraseology that should raise questions is the somewhat oxymoronic 'continuing, imminent threat.' If a threat is continuing, how can it be imminent, except maybe at one particular time before it is finally executed? " he said.
The new Obama drone policy also states a preference for having future strikes conducted by the military. Until now, the CIA had been the main agency conducting drone strikes outside war zones in places like Pakistan.
The administration made public few details about how the shift in control of drone operations would be carried out. But government sources told Reuters earlier this week that shifting operations to the Pentagon would be done in stages and that the CIA would keep conducting strikes in Pakistan for the time being.
One government source said that for the moment, the decision as to which agency conducts a drone attack would likely be determined on a case-by-case basis rather than a hard rule based on geography.
Another government source said the process outlined by Obama would involve a "lot more people" in deciding who gets killed, where, when and how, leading to a cumbersome and time-consuming process. (Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Peter Cooney)
WASHINGTON -- Schools in Newtown, Conn., will receive $1.3 million in federal aid to recover after the shootings that left 26 students and educators dead last year.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan planned to announce the School Emergency Response to Violence grant during a visit to the state on Friday.
The grant to Newtown schools was designed to offset costs the district incurred after the December 2012 shooting as well as provide counseling and training for school officials.
"This tragedy has forever changed the entire Newtown community and our country," Duncan said in remarks prepared for delivery during a noon stop at Hartford's Classical Magnet School with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.
"While we continue efforts to enact President Obama's comprehensive approach to make our schools and communities safer, we want to do whatever we can to support ongoing recovery efforts and ensure this community has the resources it needs to meet the needs of its teachers, students and families," Duncan said.
Duncan, who was part of Vice President Joe Biden's task force to respond to the shootings in Newtown, also planned to address school safety.
Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at their Newtown home before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty of the victims were children.
Students have been moved to a remodeled school renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School in the neighboring town of Monroe.
In the wake of the shooting, Congress attempted to tighten gun laws only to be thwarted by the National Rifle Association. A bipartisan bill that would have required background checks fell short, although its Democratic sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has said he would try again to pass it.
Since 2001, the Education Department has given more than $33.5 million to 106 schools recovering from violence, weather or other disruptive incidents.
Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
Nearly seven months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey's shoreline, President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie (R) are set to tour the area together again.
The Washington Post reports that a White House official said the two will meet next Tuesday, right after the Memorial Day summer tourism season begins. Obama plans to speak about helping spur economic circumstances for businesses and families affected by the storm, CNN added.
Back when Sandy hit, Christie made headlines for his vocal support of Obama's efforts after the storm. He credited the president and his staff for working "tremendously hard" to help New Jersey and other areas.
The timing of those comments was a week before the presidential election. When asked by Fox News on Oct. 30 whether GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was visiting the state, Christie dismissed the race altogether.
"I have a job to do," Christie said. "If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don't know me."
Six months after the storm first hit, Christie reflected back on Obama's effort during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He again praised the president for what he did to help the recovery, but added how far apart they are on political issues.
“Listen, the president has kept every promise that he made,” Christie said. “What I was saying at the time was, I was asked how the president was doing, I said, he’s doing a good job, he’s kept his word. And so everybody knows that I have about 95 percent level disagreement with Barack Obama on issues of principle and philosophy. But the fact is we have a job to do. And what people expect from people they elect is to do their job.”
Christie was under fire earlier this month for choosing to appear with his family in commercials to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore. The money for these ads was funded by a $60 billion aid package passed by Congress for Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
"The Jersey Shore is open. The word is spreading. Because we're stronger than the storm. You bet we are," the Christies say.
Since last year's election, the Republican Party's political leaders offered a blueprint of how they can rebuild the party after disappointing across-the-board 2012 losses, proposing a retooled platform that would better appeal to the middle class and be more welcoming to minorities.But the controversies besieging the White House present an alternative strategy—simply running against the Democratic problems at the expense of dealing with the long-term challenges the party faces. Republican officials are now sending strong signals they're planning to highlight the...
Gird your loins, America. President Obama intends to empty out Guantanamo Bay and send scores of suspected Muslim terror operatives back to their jihadist-coddling native countries. Goaded by anti-war activists and soft-on-terror attorneys (including those from Attorney General Eric Holder's former private law firm), Obama announced Thursday that he'll lift a ban on sending up to 90 Yemeni detainees home and will initiate other stalled transfers out of the compound.This radical appeasement of Obama's left flank is a surefire recipe for more Benghazis, more U.S.S. Coles and more...
How many ignored warnings does it take? That is one question that should hang over Britain after the horror of the daytime murder of a British soldier on the streets of south London. On Wednesday afternoon, Drummer Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich by two men wielding large knives and shouting "Allahu akbar"—God is great.Islamists have been saying for years they would do this. They have planned to do it. And now they have done it.
When University of Southern California student Tucker Reed was sexually assaulted in 2010, she turned to school officials. But instead of helping to bring her justice, she said, their "ignorance and indifference" further traumatized her. She said a USC official told her the goal was not to "punish" her assailant, but rather to offer an "educative" process.
"Rape is not an educative experience," Reed said. "It is a crushing, life-altering, inhuman violence."
Feeling like she had no other options, Reed on Wednesday filed a formal complaint with U.S. Department of Education, claiming USC's administration failed to respond adequately to the assault. Students and alumni who were assault victims at three other prestigious schools -- University of California, Berkeley; Dartmouth College; and Swarthmore College -- filed similar claims alleging the schools failed to properly adjudicate campus sex crimes.
The filings were coordinated through a network of campus sexual assault survivors and advocates. The complainants from the four colleges received help filing the complaints from students and alumni at the University of North Carolina and Occidental College who filed similar complaints against their schools earlier this year. Some students at Occidental and USC have retained attorneys, including Gloria Allred, for potential lawsuits against the schools.
"We have reached a critical mass where we can no longer be ignored or treated as singular issues," said Annie Clark, alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill, one of five women to file a complaint against her former university.
The complaints say the schools violated students' civil rights by not thoroughly investigating sexual assaults, and failed to obey the Clery Act, a federal law that mandates the accurate tracking and public disclosure of crime statistics on campus, including sex offenses. Violations may lead to financial penalties for institutions, like the $165,000 one imposed on Yale recently, or revision of university policies with oversight by government officials, like at the University of Montana. In extreme cases, the government can withhold federal funding, resulting in multi-million dollar losses.
The Clery Act complaint against UC Berkeley claims the administration discourages victims of sex crimes from reporting assaults, UC Berkeley senior Anais LaVoie said. Members of the Greek leadership tried to persuade victims against reporting, and campus officials said the sexual misconduct "wasn't a big deal," LaVoie said.
When students at UC Berkeley did file reports of assault, victims say they often did not get updates on the investigations. UC Berkeley student Sofie Karasek said she reported being attacked and the school never opened a formal investigation.
"They solved it through the early resolution process, which meant that there were no hearings and they never asked me for evidence," Karasek said. When that process concluded, Karasek said all she got from school officials was a three-sentence email telling her the situation was resolved. "I received another email telling me my assailant was charged with a violation of student conduct, but it did not say if any disciplinary action been taken," she said. A week later, after Karasek got those emails, her attacker graduated.
Janet Gilmore, spokeswoman for UC Berkeley, said the school hadn't seen the complaints, so it was "premature to comment."
Officials at other schools targeted by the complaints noted they had not seen the charges. All said their institution takes sexual violence seriously.
A statement from USC's Division of Student Affairs proclaimed all reports of sexual violence are taken "extremely seriously," and each instance is investigated.
Reed and fellow USC student Francesca Bessey said the school doesn't clearly communicate the process for reporting sexual assaults.
Reed said she used counseling services on campus for a year before she was told how to report her assault. She officially reported she had been raped to the university Department of Public Safety in November 2012 and later presented authorities with four audio recordings of what she said are confessions by her assailant. At least one of the recordings has been published online, and others have been transcribed and posted on her blog). School officials told Reed the alleged assailant claimed he was forced to confess, she said.
Her case was dismissed by USC on May 9, 2013. The school student affairs office said in a letter to Reed, "They agreed they had sexual intercourse together. This office acknowledges that their perspectives on the sexual intercourse differ."
After hearing about Reed's case, fellow USC student Bessey said she had little faith in the school's investigation into her assault.
"USC immediately sent letters to students and parents about a Halloween shooting," Bessey said, referring to a 2012 campus shooting. "They had an entirely new security policy within a few days. That is the response that should be happening in response to sexual violence on campus."
Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp pointed out her administration commissioned an external review of the school's sexual violence policies and procedures. "We are dedicated to not only being in total compliance with Title IX, but to setting the standard for compliance for higher education in this country," Chopp said. Title iX is the federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any educational program that receives U.S. aid.
The civil rights complaint filed against Swarthmore on Wednesday alleges that the suburban Philadelphia school has not properly investigated reports of sexual violence. College officials attempted mediation between assailants and victims as a means of settling reports of sexual assault, which placed students in an "unsafe situation," Swarthmore student Mia Ferguson said.
Students at Swarthmore filed a complaint with the Education Department in April, claiming the college violates the Clery Act -- similar to the complaint against Dartmouth this week.
The Dartmouth complaint includes testimony from 38 students and alumni alleging 14 violations of the Clery Act related to sexual assault, according to student Lea Roth. The Dartmouth complaint also documents 11 incidents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender discrimination and hate crimes, Roth said.
"It’s heartbreaking to know that these testimonies are just the tip of the iceberg," Roth said.
Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said, "No educational institution should be complacent about claims of sexual assault and discrimination, and Dartmouth is not."
Linda Fairstein, a former New York City sex crimes prosecutor now a senior advisor at K2 Intelligence, a security firm that advises schools on sexual assault regulations, said complaints that universities are wrongly handling sexual violence comes as no surprise.
"It's probably true that the overwhelming number of schools in this country have lagged in needing compliance with both Clery and Title IX," said Fairstein, whose company isn't working for any of the schools named in the complaints. "This is a problem of enormous proportion on college campuses."
HuffPost Live's Alyona Minkovski spoke with Code Pink's Medea Benjamin on Thursday, just hours after she was escorted out President Barack Obama's speech today on Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes after Benjamin heckled the president in protest. Benjamin told HuffPost Live that she plans to protest the president again, and that she's fairly confident she'll be able to get through the doors in order to do so.
With the debate over gun control still simmering, a reader asked us to fact-check an ad on Baltimore TV stations that promotes tough laws on gun purchases. The ad, was put together by Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, a group headed by Vincent DeMarco, an adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (We have written previously about the Bloomberg School’s role in gun policy research.) The group, whose board is chock full of Maryland political leaders, supported the gun-control bill signed earlier this year by Democratic Gov. ...>> More
The biggest piece of President Obama’s second-term agenda is his widely expected plan for the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new carbon regulations for power plants, a move that could bring the United States in line with the greenhouse-gas-reduction goals it agreed to in Copenhagen and open the way for an international treaty to control climate change. If the administration unveils such a plan, conservatives will undoubtedly challenge its legality. The legal challenge won’t take place for two years, but the two sides are preparing for war already. The field of...
If you came across this footage as you were browsing the Web, you would not immediately know what you were watching. You might mistake it for a stunt, or a setup, or even a promotional clip for an upcoming film. Even when you discovered what it actually represented, you could be forgiven for finding it unreal.Â The footage is British. It was Wednesday afternoon in Woolwich, a district of southeast London. The man addressing the camera has yet to be named, but he is not a figure easily forgotten. He wears jeans, a dark jacket with the hood back, and a black knit cap, but his hands are bright...
Maybe the problem is that rape is an extension of military culture. And it's metastasizing, even as legislation to address it stays trapped in congressional subcommittee.
Scandals and outrage come and go, but rape is ever-present. In 2011, a Pentagon report estimated that 19,000 sexual assaults had occurred in the U.S. military, of which barely 3,000 were reported because of the stigma and risk involved in doing so. The "I own you" system of military justice traditionally turns on the victim far more than the accused. That year, in response to the shocking statistics, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would, among other things, remove the investigation of rape cases from the military chain of command, which has far more interest in ignoring the problem than prosecuting it.
Now a new Pentagon report is out, estimating that 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in the U.S. military in 2012, with, once again, just over 3,000 incidents reported. And Speier's legislation has been sitting the whole time in the House Armed Services Committee, denied even a hearing.
"The military doesn't want this and the committee tends to be very deferential to what the military wants," Speier told Northern California public TV station KQED. "This is one of those issues where what the military wants is not good enough for all the men and women in the military who want to serve without being jumped by a sexual predator in the night."
Note that Speier's legislation is several steps removed from actually identifying and eliminating the root causes of military rape -- which Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, called a "plague" that needs to be addressed "swiftly and decisively." Speier's bill would simply allow victims to report the crime in relative safety, a fairly basic precondition for after-the-fact justice.
The current system puts investigation and prosecution into the hands of commanding officers, who often enough have a powerful interest in maintaining the façade that everything is fine; and women and men who have the audacity to report sexual assault muddy that façade, often putting their own careers in jeopardy. Away from the spotlight of public scandal, those in power have no interest in changing the system.
But sexual assault scandals don't go away. So far this month, three military officers tasked with sexual assault prevention -- at the Army's Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Hood, Texas, along with the leader of the Air Force's branch of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program -- have themselves been arrested for sexual misconduct or stalking. Their arrests, combined with the release of the Pentagon's report indicating an enormous rise in what, a year previously, had already been a shockingly high estimate of sexual assault occurrences in the military, has once again triggered public and political outrage.
I repeat: In 2011, the Pentagon's own estimate put the number of sexual assaults that year at 19,000. In 2012, it rose to 26,000.
Taking the rape reporting process out of the chain of command and creating an investigative office outside the Defense Department, while no doubt a good idea, strikes me as being an inadequate response to the phenomenon. That even such a relatively minor, reasonable change is, apparently, impossible to accomplish gives it a certain cachet in the discussion. It's the idea that politicians and the media have focused on for two successive scandal cycles, keeping the discussion from becoming a deeper look at the root causes.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) did tell MSNBC that a policy of zero tolerance toward rape isn't good enough. What we need, she said, is "zero occurrence." Amen, senator, but what are the steps we must take to bring this about?
Like suicide, sexual assault is skyrocketing in the military. Why? Could it be that the problem is deeply structural? Could it be that it's related to the domination culture the military embodies, not to mention the brutally immoral, pointless wars we've been waging for the past decade-plus? Could it have something to do with the idea that what goes around comes around?
In 2011, after the earlier scandal, when Speier first proposed her legislation, I wrote: "Maybe it's time to look at the values themselves -- beginning with those of our military culture, which is the model, and indeed the metaphor, for every other form of domination culture: The prime value is winning, achieving dominance over some sort of enemy or 'other.' Around this core of dominance, we construct a fortress of honor, righteousness, cleanliness of mind and spirit. We revere the fortress, but in its dark interior, our natural impulses are ungoverned and often manifest themselves in perverse mockery of the values we salute."
In a culture based on winning, the rapist is the "winner." Maybe that's the problem. And it permeates not just personal behavior but national policy.
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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.
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