The Senate has changed. Why can’t the U.S. military?
WHEN A dozen military leaders testified before Congress earlier this month about the alarming rise of sexual assaults in their ranks, they faced a Senate panel that included seven women—a record number for the predominantly male Armed Services Committee. The female representation among the senators made the paucity of women on the military side that much more noticeable. If you looked hard, there was one woman seated third from the end. But her presence did little to change the overall impression left by the group: a long line of mostly stolid men, awkward and out of touch with the issue they were speaking about.
The scene made me think back to another Senate hearing, which rocked the political universe a generation ago. In October 1991, the nation was riveted as the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Anita Hill about her charge of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. Thomas went on to the Supreme Court, and public opinion was divided on who was telling the truth. But the image of 14 men berating Hill about her veracity in sexually graphic terms provoked a political backlash from women, who were made newly aware how underrepresented they were in Congress.
There were then just two women in the 100-member Senate, Republican Nancy Kassebaum and Democrat Barbara Mikulski. Ellen Malcolm, who founded the organization EMILY’s List in 1985 to elect more pro-choice Democratic women, recently recalled how Dianne Feinstein declared at the time that “2 percent is fine for low-fat milk, but not for women in the Senate.” Feinstein campaigned on that slogan in 1992 and won a Senate seat, as did fellow Californian Barbara Boxer and two others, Patty Murray of Washington State and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. They tripled the number of women in the Senate from two to six in what was dubbed “the Year of the Woman.”
Two decades later there are 20 women in the Senate, 16 Democrats and 4 Republicans—far from parity, but enough to ensure that, earlier this month, there was a critical mass of women asking questions at the Armed Services hearing. Of course, that did not fully compensate for the fact that the military officials testifying before the committee were almost entirely male. But hopefully that will not always be the case: the dramatic increase in the number of women in the Senate since 1991 is evidence that even the most hidebound institutions can change with the times.
Why won’t the right-wing congressman release the full transcript of his IRS investigation? Michael Tomasky has a theory.
All right, let’s get back to the IRS. While everyone was focused on the Edward Snowden revelations, we had an interesting development in the IRS matter that throws another several gallons of ice-cold water on Darrell Issa’s alleged case against the Obama administration—and that raises some interesting questions about how Issa and his staff are using the information they have obtained. Republicans have been hoping to ride this horse into 2014 and beyond, but it may be ready for the glue factory already.
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel (left) talks with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, on June 6 after he testified before the committee’s hearing regarding IRS conference spending. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Late last week, a few news stories appeared quoting some employees of the IRS Cincinnati office saying quasi-ominous things about being directed from Washington to do this or that. This CBS News article provides a good example. One beleaguered IRS employee, Elizabeth Hofacre, said she was instructed to clear all letters she sent to tea party groups through an IRS lawyer in Washington—which to said groups naturally brings to mind the image of this lawyer hand-delivering the letters to Obama himself as the two of them laugh the laughter of slippery cosmopolitans who’ve hoodwinked the booboisie yet again.
These remarks by Hofacre and others were made in secret session to Issa’s oversight committee, which has transcripts of these conversations. CBS, according to the article, reviewed the transcripts from “some” of the interviews. It seems obvious that reporters were shown mainly the bits that sounded scintillating and kept the story alive.
The ATF has not had a confirmed director since 2006, and the next one is going to find an urgency with its hands tied because of the gun lobby. Adam Winkler on why they need to be freed to do their job.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering the nomination of B. Todd Jones to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF. Looking at his résumé—and given that ATF has been without a confirmed director since 2006—you might think Jones’s confirmation would be a no-brainer. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School, Jones eschewed big-firm law practice and served his country instead, joining the Marines. He became a judge advocate in the service and, upon returning to civilian life, an assistant U.S. sttorney in Minnesota. In 2009 he became the lead U.S. attorney there, in charge of federal civil and criminal cases. He also knows the ATF well, having served for the past two years as the bureau’s acting director.
Yet the ATF is the main federal entity charged with enforcing America’s gun laws. So Jones’s nomination is inevitably tied up with the messy politics of guns. The National Rifle Association and its allies on Capitol Hill despise the ATF and have worked hard over the years to handcuff the bureau, insistent that it threatens the Second Amendment. As a result, Jones isn’t likely to be making up new business cards soon—and America’s gun problem will only deepen.
With approximately 15,000 people dying from the criminal misuse of guns each year, the ATF’s mission of shutting down the illegal supply of guns to criminals is of vital importance. For years, however, the ATF has been left without the resources—and leadership—to effectively intervene in the illegal market for guns. One of the best ways to stem this flow of guns is to identify which gun dealers are improperly selling to criminals. Congress, however, has made this as hard as possible. Out of fear of ATF creating a gun registry—which would inevitably be used to confiscate all of America’s guns (of course!)—gun-control opponents have forced ATF to trace guns the way 17th-century monks copied texts: by hand.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg says nearly $20 billion could protect the city from climate change. But can he—and his successor—walk the walk? David Freedlander reports.
Warning that the city faces dire consequences in the face of global climate change, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg laid out a far-reaching plan Tuesday to confront rising sea levels and a warming planet.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivers remarks about the city’s long-term plan to prepare for climate-change impacts June 11. (Mario Tama/Getty)
The plan, called “A Stronger and More Resilient New York,” comes in response to Hurricane Sandy, last year’s massive storm that rendered large swaths of the region uninhabitable and left 43 New Yorkers dead.
Speaking at Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, a World War II–era shipyard retrofitted as a green-technology manufacturing center, Bloomberg said, “Today this building that once turned out battleships now helps lead us in another battle—a battle that may well define our future for generations to come: the battle against climate change.”
The state party’s request for a list of concealed carry gun permit holders has angered Tea Party leaders, with one telling Ben Jacobs, ‘This is not the time to be jeopardizing people’s privacy.’
What does the Republican Party of Virginia have in common with Gawker? More than you think.
The Virginia Republican Party is coming under fire for using a gun registry list to contact potential voters. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)
Like the New York City–based news and gossip blog, the Old Dominion branch of the GOP is under fire for requesting a list of concealed-carry-gun-permit holders. But while Gawker requested and published a list to out every permit holder in New York City, the Virginia Republicans have done so to only flesh out their voter database ahead of the coming gubernatorial election.
But pro–gun control New York City is no Virginia, where on July 1, after a concerted political effort led by Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the names and addresses of Virginians with a concealed-weapons permit will no longer be publicly available. By trying to mine the permit data just before the window closes, the state party is angering an awful lot of Old Dominion conservatives—even though it has gathered such information for years.
The elite Federalist Society has become one of the most effective conservative groups in the country. How did it happen?
It seems like ancient history, but it was only 15 years ago that Hillary Clinton appeared on the Today show and accused Republicans of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to take down President Bill Clinton. Clinton was speaking in the last millennium, and she was speaking about all conservative interest groups, but her statement is very relevant when it comes to conservative efforts to change the direction of American law.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts pauses during a speech at the Federalist Society’s 25th-anniversary celebration. (Evan Vucci/AP)
There is a right-wing conspiracy in American law led by the influential Federalist Society and described by Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin in their new book The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals. But it is the fact that the right-wing conspiracy is not vast that has made the Federalist Society effective.
It was in 1982 that the Federalist Society was founded by a group of students at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School as an attempt to challenge what they considered to be the neglect of conservative and libertarian ideas in the American legal system. The students who founded the organization were an impressive group, and they were aided by leading luminaries like Robert Bork (who would be nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan and rejected by the Senate) and then-professor Antonin Scalia, now a Supreme Court justice.
She’s out confronting hecklers, showing off new moves with Jimmy Fallon, skipping Chinese summits—Michelle Obama, ambivalent and buttoned up in her first term, is finally free, says Michelle Cottle.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
OK. Maybe those were not Michelle Obama’s exact words to the LGBT activist who disrupted her speech at a private DNC fundraiser last Tuesday. If, indeed, one insists on being a stickler about it, Mobama’s response was more along the lines of, “One of the things that I don’t do well is this!”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk on the tarmac to board Air Force One at Dallas Love Field, April 25, 2013. (LM Otero/AP)
Still, Howard Beale would have been impressed. Whatever points heckler Ellen Sturtz was looking to score, the first lady was not playing. Her voice grew loud and defiant as she came out from behind the podium and got all up in Sturtz’s business. Then she gave the woman a choice: either shut the hell up, or I’m outta here.
The top-secret ‘Q Group’ has been chasing Edward Snowden since he disappeared in May. Eli Lake on the intel community’s internal police—and why the agency is in ‘complete freakout mode.’
Even before last week’s revelations by The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting call records from telecommunications companies and had the ability to mine user data from major U.S. Internet companies, the NSA was already on the trail of the leaker, according to two former U.S. intelligence officers with close ties to the agency.
Edward Snowden’s (inset) disappearance in May was immediately noticed by the NSA. (Patrick Semansky/AP; inset: Getty)
On Sunday, The Guardian revealed its source—a 29-year-old former U.S. Army soldier and CIA employee named Edward Snowden. Snowden—who worked as a contract employee at an NSA station in Hawaii—said he agreed to have his identity revealed because he feared that the NSA would put pressure on his family and his friends for information about his whereabouts. From a hotel in Hong Kong, he told The Guardian he expected he would never be allowed to return home and that he could end up imprisoned or murdered because of his decision to leak.
The people who began chasing Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, according to former U.S. intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The directorate, sometimes known as “the Q Group,” is continuing to track Snowden now that he’s outed himself as The Guardian’s source, according to the intelligence officers. Snowden began final preparations for his departure three weeks ago, The Guardian reports, copying the final documents he intended to share, telling his supervisor that he would need time off for medical treatment, and his girlfriend simply that he would be away. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world," he told the paper in his interview from Hong Kong.
Jonathan Alter’s new history of the Obama presidency covers the 2010 midterm shellacking to his 2012 reelection—years defined by our failure to push for progressive reforms.
Campaigning for a third term as president in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt told an enthusiastic crowd in Cleveland: “You provided work for free men and women ... You used the powers of government to stop the depletion of the top soil ... You wrote into law the right of working men and women to bargain collectively ... You turned to the problems of youth and age … You made safe the banks.”
Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama. (AP)
I was reminded of FDR’s words when I heard President Obama say in his re-nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Party Convention last September in Charlotte: “You were the change. You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who will get the surgery she needs … You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home … Only you have the power to move us forward.”
Articulating anew the fundamental democratic truth that democratic change requires democratic propulsion, Obama was urging Americans to recognize his administration’s initiatives as their own and to take responsibility for securing them by turning out in November. But his words led me to think again of what might have been if the president had taken that fundamental democratic truth to heart in 2009 and, like FDR, mobilized popular energies and aspirations to confront the crises of the day, beat the conservative and corporate opposition, and transform the nation for the better—and in turn, had we responded as did the men and women of the 1930s and 1940s by not only pursuing those labors and struggles, but also pushing our president to act ever more progressively with us.
As the Senate prepares to vote on immigration reform, the bill’s path forward remains murky.
Democrats and Republicans alike seem to agree that the thorny issue of immigration reform has its best chance in decades of passing the Senate and House and becoming law. But no one—not Hill staff, interest groups, or even members of Congress themselves—can say for sure how the bill gets done.
A US flag that's about 150 years old is flown during a rally for immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol on April 10. Jimmy Castro said the flag was bought by his great great grandfather Jaime Castro, who came to California from Honduras. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Like the frogs in a wheelbarrow that Speaker John Boehner famously compared his caucus to, even supporters of immigration reform have been for and against the evolving legislation so many times, it’s hard to keep track. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) voted for the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but warned he’ll vote against it in the Senate unless his own amendments on back taxes get attached to it.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R–Idaho) bolted last week from the House group that’s been working on the issue for the last four years, but said he could ultimately vote for a bill if his health-care provisions are included.
Obama was right: Americans are sick of the war on terror. We aren’t terrified anymore, and we’re no longer willing to sacrifice our freedoms. That’s why a left-right alliance is denouncing Obama’s spy program.
It’s impossible to understand the furor over the revelations about NSA surveillance without realizing that in his assessment of the public mood, Obama was right: Americans are ready for the “war on terror” to end. They are no longer as terrified of al Qaeda. After 9/11, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who said it was “very” or “somewhat likely” that terrorists would strike the U.S. in the next few weeks hit 85 percent. By late 2011, it was down to 38 percent. It spiked to 51 percent after the Boston Marathon bombing, but absent another major attack that number will likely drop again. And as the public’s fear of terrorism has dropped, Americans have become less willing to sacrifice personal freedoms to fight it. After 9/11, roughly half were willing to surrender “basic civil liberties” to combat terror. Now that’s down to one quarter. Fifty-four percent of Americans supported “expanded government monitoring of cellphones and email” after 9/11, according to CNN. In 2006, it remained 52 percent. Now it’s down to 38 percent (PDF).
It’s hard to know exactly why most Americans now believe the “war on terror” is over. Obviously, a major reason is that, Boston notwithstanding, al Qaeda has not managed 9/11-scale attacks anywhere in the world. The withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, and the dramatic decline in coverage of the Afghan war, also may have reduced the public’s focus on jihadist terror. Finally, unlike the Bush administration, which went out of its way to scare Americans about the terrorist threat, the Obama administration has played it down.
Conservatives may lionize Edward Snowden now, says Michael Tomasky, but ultimately his actions are going to tear apart the GOP.
Here’s something I’ll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They’re up a tree either way. If they do, then they’re obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush’s presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don’t, then they’ve lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.
Glenn Beck and Rand Paul. (Getty)
First out of the gate Sunday was Glenn Beck, who tweeted in the late afternoon, not too long after The Guardian posted the interview with Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Shortly thereafter, another: “Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.” And two hours after that: “The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right. No red or blue JUST TRUTH.”
Beck, I will concede, has a degree of credibility on the red/blue issue. He criticizes Republicans sometimes. Even so, it amounts to a speck of dust when set against his near-daily sermons (for years now) about liberal and Democratic fascism. So I wonder about the degree to which Beck would have hopped up to throw rose petals at young Snowden’s feet if he’d come forward in this way under the Bush administration.
Republicans’ problem with young voters isn’t about stray stupid comments, writes Lloyd Green, but its retrograde approach to technology, culture and modernity.
The modernity gap that haunted the Republican Party on Election Day 2012 has since worsened. Demographics, attitudes and technology continue to make the Republicans look like out-of-touch relics of a bygone era. A record-high 30 percent of Americans now identify as socially liberal, Democratic-leaning single mothers are a growing portion of the electorate, and more Americans than not have an unfavorable view of the GOP, notwithstanding the recent spate of negative news surrounding the administration.
Young Republicans say the pledge of allegiance at Madison Square Garden in New York before the third day of the Republican National Convention, Sept. 1, 2003. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
To top it off, a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.
Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term.
Each Monday for the rest of the month, the Supreme Court will hand down rulings from this term on affirmative action, same-sex marriage, civil rights, and genetic patents. Josh Dzieza on what’s at stake.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
Attorney Bert Rein speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., while standing with plaintiff Abigail Fisher after the Supreme Court heard arguments in her case in October 2012. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
For the first time in a decade, the Supreme Court will take up affirmative action in public universities. At the center of the case is Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She sued the school, with the help of conservative activist Edward Blum, claiming that the university had violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment by considering race in Fisher’s application. The university says that in the interest of fostering a diverse student body, it should be free to look at race as one factor in a “holistic” admissions process, citing the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling. The school also says that even had Fisher not been white, she still wouldn’t have gotten in.
Hormones cause military sexual assaults, Eric Holder’s worse than al Qaeda, working moms hurt education, and more of this week’s crackpot theories from the edge of U.S. politics.
Hormones to Blame for Sexual Assault
Sexual assaults in the military: criminal activity perpetrated by an institutionally chauvinistic mentality or inevitable byproduct of a bunch of hormonal young people working and living together? Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) sent members of both parties into a tailspin this week when he suggested at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the pervasiveness of sexual assaults in the military might be partially to blame on the latter. “The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22, 23. Gee whiz—the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” Chambliss said. Both sides of the aisle jumped on the senator’s words. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), co-chairman of the military assault-prevention caucus, said, “Perpetuating this line of thinking does nothing to help change the culture of our military.” And Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) called for Chambliss to take back his comment. “I think he should think about whether if, God forbid, a sexual assault happened to a daughter of his, would he think it was OK for a senator to just chalk the assault up to raging hormones?” she asked.
Women Don’t Want Equal-Pay Laws
Call her old-fashioned, but Marsha Blackburn just doesn’t think American women want equal-pay laws. The Republican representative from Tennessee, who voted against the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act of the same year, explained why she wouldn’t support a law that would close the gender gap on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies. You know, I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job,” Blackburn said. “And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want. They don’t want decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves.”
President Obama tried to dispel concerns over NSA spying on 'Charlie Rose' Monday, saying 'if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails... and have not.' So what's the big deal, right? Right?
Laura Colarusso on how Edward Snowden, who wasn’t directly employed by the government, got top-secret intel.
Every week this month, the Supreme Court will hand down rulings. Josh Dzieza on what’s at stake.
Pentagon papers lawyer James Goodale has seen Holder’s actions before—in Richard Nixon.