Air Force Rape Case a Blot on Military Justice

“Air Force rape case a blot on military justice” is the title of the Albuquerque Journal’s lead editorial in the March 16, 2013 issue. The Journal was referring to the reversal of the conviction for aggravated sexual assault of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a fighter pilot stationed in Italy. The conviction was reversed by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, Wilkerson’s commander, or “convening authority”* in military jargon. The Journal was “shocked” by the absence of detailed specific reasons for reversing the conviction.

The Wilkerson case joins the documentary film, “The Invisible War” — on sexual assault — the dozens of recruits sexually assaulted by their trainers at Lackland Air Force Base, and the story of sexual assaults at the Air Force Acadeny, breaking a few years ago, in elevating sexual assault in the military as a major national problem.

A subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), heard from a panel of military victims of sexual assault — some now heads of sexual assault preventive organizations — closely followed by high-ranking military officers assigned to combat sexual assault. This arrangement allowed those in the second panel to hear the testimony of those in the first panel.

I felt the star among the questioning senators was Claire McCaskill (D- Missouri). She doggedly pursued the issue of the convening authority, pointing out that he/she didn’t need to be a lawyer, wasn’t required to have had legal training and wasn’t required to have read the trial transcript. McCaskill believes there should be a prosecutor outsde of the direct chain of command making decisions on what cases go to trial and she wanted to see an appellate process more reminiscent of what is found in civilian courts.

Sen. McCaskill made two other major contributions during the Senate hearing: 1) She questioned why the alleged perpetrator of the assault is not transferred to another base, only the victim — to prevent, for example, a situation in which the alleged perpetrator works side-by-side with the victim. The reply from the second panel was there is no legal bar to transferring the alleged perpetrator but the general practice is to transfer the victim. 

2) Sen. McCaskill recommended that future sexual crimes tied to the alleged perpetrator be made known to the original victim, because he/she may want to press charges to prevent harm to others.

What I found fascinating about the second panel is that each military service, even the minor ones, have an officer heading a unit assigned to focus on the sexual assault problem. Beyond that, the Department of Defense (DOD) has a separate sexual assault office; in addition, the civilian DOD general counsel reported being under a tight deadline to report a set of recommendations — a second panel member was under a tight deadline to do the same.

How big is the military sexual assault problem and how does it compare to the civilian population? The DOD reported an 11 percent increase in reporting sexual assaults between fiscal years 2009 and 2010. There was a 1 percent increase in reporting from 2011 to 2012. It is difficult to know the true extent of the problem, since only a very small percentage of sexual assaults are reported: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website shows that only 1 in 79 will report a sexual crime committed against them. The latest DOD estimate is that 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the last reporting year, with about 10,000 involving male victims. On the surface, 10,000 seems to be a grossly exaggerated share of estimated occurrences, but it should be remembered that the overwhelming number of armed forces personnel are of the male gender.

In FY 2011, 2,439 unrestricted letters and 753 restricted letters were filed DOD-wide. In an unrestricted letter, in addition to providing care and services to the victim, an investigation is triggered. Restricted letters go to specific individuals, such as a sexual assault coordinator, victim advocate and other individuals not in law enforcement or the chain of command; allow for the victim to receive care and services, while keeping the case confidential and not investigating upon the victim’s request.

The main recommendations coming from sexual assault protective groups are to remove the power of commanders to decide what cases go to trial and to reverse a verdict; and to give service members access to civil courts. Both panels in the Senate hearing emphasized training for those helping sexual assault victims navigate the process.

A Final Thought: The DOD estimate that about one-sixth of sexual assaults are reported may deeply understate the occurrences, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows a reporting ratio of 1 in 79 on its website.

* Under most or all cases, the convening authority is the commanding officer of the military base where the alleged crime occurred. He/she decides what cases go to trial, selects the tribunal members who will rule on the case and may reverse the judgment in a case.

Obama Pro-Israel Policy Hits U.S. Taxpayers’ Pockets and They Like It

While on his recent visit to Israel, President Barack Obama doubled down on U.S. military aid with a new agreement to extend the aid through 2027. A total of $40 billion would be added to Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance. The increased aid would kick in at the conclusion of the current 10-year, $30 billion agreement signed in 2007; also, the agreement would increase grant aid from the current $3.1 billion a year to nearly $4 billion a year. Furthermore, Obama will not allow sequestration to interrupt the $200 million in FY 2013 funding for Israel’s Iron Dome active defense system. Another $600 million will be spent on it in the next two years. 

Instead of allowing a new president to decide if the United States should increase the very substantial level of its military assistance to Israel, he is pre-empting that decision well before the 2017 ending date of the current agreement.

President Obama’s visit to Israel did nothing to slow the pace of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He had foreshadowed his virtual abandonment of his early pledge in office to significantly reduce Israeli settlement building, by the absence of U.S. representatives from the UN Human Rights Council debate, which described the settlements as a form of “creeping annexation.” Analyst Daniel Levy had described the Obama visit as “coming first and foremost to make a statement about the US-Israel bond, not the illegal settlements.” [1] 

Obama’s stance on Israel is popular with the U.S. citizenry and there is no determined opposition  to the financial largesse to our Middle East ally. Most Americans support Israel over the Palestinians — 50 percent to 9 percent — and 70 percent believe that the two sides should settle their dispute. 53 percent of Israelis believe that Obama will not protect Israeli interests and 80 percent believe he will not bring progress with the Palestinians. [2]

Palestinians held anti-Obama demonstrations during his visit, as they are on to how widely Obama’s rhetoric differs from his actions. They know that Obama will not change the condition whereby Jewish settlers are allowed to build with official state backing and Palestinians cannot build on territory that much of the world believes to be theirs.

Chances of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not likely to get better soon, as among the first actions of the new settler-friendly cabinet was to announce a “basic law” to change the state’s official designation to emphasize the “Jewish” aspects and trump the “democratic” aspects. The Haaretz newspaper in Israel called the action “insane.”

Finally, besides upping the ante of financial aid to Israel by $10 billion plus and easing the pressure on Israel to stop settlement building outside its borders, President Barack Obama once again endorsed Israel’s right to act unilaterally to pre-empt the nuclear threat from Iran: “Each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military activity.”

                                                     Footnotes

[1] Jonathan Cook, “Obama comes to bless Israel’s government of settlers,”  March 20, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

Exploding the Mythology of the Pro-Gun Zealots

In a mere two pages, Mother Jones magazine does a magnificant job of exploding much of the false information peddled by pro-gun zealots, committed to opposition to any and all restrictions on possession of firearms. (See Dave Gibson, “Hits and Myths,” Mother Jones, March/April 2013).

Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.  Fact-check: Law enforcement and the military own about 4 million guns: 3 million for the military and 1 million for law enforcement. Exact breakdown of weapon types unknown. Civilians own an estimated 310 million among roughly 80 million gunowners: a ratio of 79 to 1.

Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people — people kill people. Fact-check: The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114 percent higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Mother Jones supplies a graph showing gun ownership vs. gun deaths (by state), which puts Hawaii and Massachusetts near the bottom left of the graph and Wyoming and Montana near the top right.*

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society. Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44 percent more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists and 77 percent more likely to follow them aggressively.

Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.

Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot someone in claimed self-defense have been linked to a 7 to 10 percent increase in homicides.

Myth #4: Good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys. Fact-check: There have been zero mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years.

Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer, Fact-check: For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around the house.##

43 percent of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm. In one experiment, one-third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a firearm pulled the trigger.

Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer. Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.

In one survey, nearly 1 percent of Amercans reported using a gun to defend themselves or their property; however, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50 percent involved using guns in an aggressive manner such as escalating an argument.###

A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater. 

Myth #7: Guns make women safer. Fact-check: 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.

A women’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.

Myth #8: “Vicious, violent video games” deserve more blame than guns. Fact-check: So said NRA executive vice-presidnet Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what’s up with Japan? Per capita spending on video games is $44 in the U.S. and $55 in Japan. Civilian firearms per 100 people is 88 in the U.S. and 0.6 in Japan. Gun homicides in 2008 were 11,030 in the U.S. and 11 in Japan.

Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners. Fact-check: More guns are being sold but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population. About 50 percent of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45 percent say they do. Overall, 35 percent of Americans own guns.

80 percent of gun owners are men. On average, they own 7.9 guns each.

Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws — we just need to enforce the ones we have. Fact-check: Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns  illegally.

Around 40 percent of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t rquire background checks. 40 percent of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them that way. 

An investigation found 62 percent of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.

20 percent of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.

* When I was a village trustee in University Park, Illinois, I introduced a handgun ban modeled on the one in Morton Grove, Illinois. On doing research for my legislation, I learned from annual FBI graphs that violent crimes — murders, assaults and rapes — were much lower per capita in regions with relatively strong gun laws, such as the Northeast, compared with regions with relatively weak gun laws, such as the South and the Southwest.

** The two signature studies of home defense firearms in urban areas were done in Detroit and Cleveland. These studies found that for every intruder shot by a home defense gun, 4 to 6 family members or visitors to the home were shot.

### The claim that hundreds of thousands or even a few million Americans use firearms in self-defense every year is contradicted by annual FBI reports that show well under 1,000 documented cases of self-defense use of firearms.

Personal anecdotes of myself and likely numerous other people are in order here. I come from a family of 9 children and a very large extended family; also, I have lived in a number of states in my 78 years on this earth. I know of only one instance in which another person with whom I have had more than casual contact has made a claim of firearms self-defense: a fellow trustee on the University Park village board said she shot through her door at someone rattling her doorknob. She apparently didn’t hit anyone and it may have been a case of a drunk mistaking her home for his or hers. 

What is most striking to me in what has been presented above, is the 11 gun deaths in Japan, compared to the more than 11,000 in the United States. If the slogan that guns don’t kill people — people kill people — is true, than U.S. citizens most be far more violent that Japanese citizens.

Sources and more detail that provided above may be garnered at motherjones.com/gun-myths.

 

 

Common Wisdom on Taxing the Rich Is Commonly False

I. Common Wisdom on Taxes Commonly False

There is a phenomenon in this country by which a supposed truism gets circulated in the media and then becomes a staple of common wisdom. This phenomenon has happened with regard to the belief that a significant dent can’t be made in the deficit by taxing the rich. This species of newly reiterated common wisdom is based primarily on two fallacious assumptions: 1) the top marginal income tax rate can’t be more than 39.6 percent; and 2) capital gains and dividends must be taxed at a lower rate than wages and salaries, because the former represent earnings of the job creators.

George W. Bush believes that no one should pay more than one-third — or a little more — of his/her taxable income in federal income tax and Barack Obama differs little from Bush, as he has never proposed a top marginal rate of over 39.6 percent.

The very high marginal tax rates between World War II and the advent of the Reagan administration were linked to a period of economic prosperity in the nation. Tax experts who have analyzed the federal income tax structure for FY 1961, when the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent, and factored in inflation since then, have calculated that the 1961 rates and other provisions would have generated an additional $781 billion in this fiscal year. Carried over for ten years, the 1961 tax structure would have brought in nearly $8 trillion in new revenue, not even factoring in inflation. 

Harold Meyerson wrote an enlightening article in the Washington Post on how investment income distribution, globalization and the earned-income share of GDP relate to tax fairness and extension of most of the Bush tax cuts.

In the most recent tax year studied, the wealthiest one percent realized 38.2 percent of their income from investments (capital gains and dividends) and the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent realized more than half: 51.9 percent. Meanwhile, the bottom four-fifths got just 0.7 percent of their income from capital gains and dividends. [1]

Taxing investment income at a lower rate than labor presumably fosters more investment in the U.S. economy; however, as Meyerson points out, since virtually every major U.S. corporation is a global company, we reward a company like GE for, in effect, sending money overseas, while the GE employee who produces wealth entirely within U.S. borders, may be taxed at a higher rate than a GE investor.

Harold Meyerson says that globalization “has completrely changed the investment patterns of American corporations”; also, he warns that taxing wages and salaries at a higher rate than investment income means that the tax code is taking a bigger bite out of a steadily shrinking share of Americans’ income. The St. Louis Federal Reserve has documented that income from wages and salaries as of July 2012 constituted the smallest share of GDP since World War II. The earned-income share of GDP peaked in 1969 at 53.5 percent; in 2012 it was 43.5 percent. This ten percent loss (about $1.5 trillion a year), went in significant part, to corporate profits. In the 3rd quarter of 2012, after-tax corporate profits constituted the largest share of U.S. GDP since World War II: 11.1 percent. [2] 

This shift from wages to profits is called redistribution. It is, argues Meyerson, the primary reason that economic inequality in the United States has skyrocketed. The shift awards offshoring more than work done in the U.S. and deprives the government of needed revenue. 

II. The Blankety Blank Ryan Budget

In commenting on the budget plan of Rep. Paul Ryan, I neglected to include Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s very concise summary of it: “The former Republican vice presidential candidate’s budget eliminates (blank) loopholes in the tax code, cutting the (blank)  and the (blank) deductions. It reduces spending on the (blank) program by (blank) and the (blank) program by (blank). Retirees would see (blank), students would experience (blank) and the poor would be (blank).”

                                                      Footnotes

[1] Harold Meyerson, “A tax deal only the ultra-rich could love,” The Washington Post, January 8, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Problems Mount

I previously have blogged about the trouble-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but a plethora of articles have been published in the past month, detailing even more problems. The F-35 came into more prominent public view when the Canadian government recently announced it was considering cancelling its entire F-35 order.

Canada is one of eight nations which have placed orders totaling 697 F-35s. Canada is considering cancelling its order because the Canadian government learned that the cost of its order has risen to $42 billion over the 42-year life of the jet fighter; also, the Canadian auditor-general has found a lack of fair competition in bidding for the order, significantly understated costs, and failure to get required approval and documentation.

Besides Canada, Australia is considering cutting its order in half and Italy, Great Britain and the Netherlands are considering pulling out. A prime axiom drilled into physicians is: “First, do no harm.” Following this axiom, the United States should honor requests to reduce and/or cancel orders from other nations, because we are burdening them with substantial costs and providing them a deeply flawed product. This should be done even though it will increase the per-plane cost for the United States.

Originally, Lock-Heed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-35, promised it would develop and manufacture 2,825 planes for $233 billion each, yet, now it will cost $397 billion a plane for 409 fewer planes. Taxpayers have already spent $84 billion for design and initial production, while retrofitting may cost as much as $4 billion for the 65 F-35s already built. The Department of Defense and Lock-Heed Martin have constructed what amounts to a forcefield around the program by manufacturing parts for the F-35 in 45 states. The Pentagon estimates it will cost $1.1 trillion over the life of the F-35 to fly and maintain it.

One of the main selling points for the F-35 was that its parts would be 70 to 80 percent compatible for the three services it has been designed to serve: the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines; however, the parts are now about 70 percent distinct from one another.

As is the case with the increasingly sophisticated fighter planes being built by the United States, millions of lines of computer code must be written, increasing downtime for maintenance work. The problem doesn’t stop there, as the Air Force wants a lighter plane for aerial combat and the Navy wants a heavier plane for the added range needed and the pounding a plane takes in landing on aircraft carriers. Pilots have serious concerns.

A main pilot concern is with the F-35’s complicated, expensive helmet-mounted display system, which pilots complain distorts and obscures their vision. Further obstructing vision is the placing of the pilot ejection system, increasing the odds of the plane being gunned down from behind in an aerial dogfight. Even the radar system has shortfalls, with pilots reporting that the touch screen is “error-prone.” 

Time is growing short to pull the plug on the F-35, as by 2017 the military will own 365 of them. The United States currently has several varieties of jet fighter planes that will maintain its aerial superiority in that category of aircraft for many years to come. A nation committed to long-term deficit reduction and prudent management of its armed forces should pull the plug on further development and production of the F-35 after current contractual obligations are met.

Paul Ryan Unveils Yet Another Sketchy Budgetary “Vision”

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has unveiled his third long-term budgetary plan for the future but like the last two it is more like a vaguely described future vision. The plan has very few actual figures and relies heavily on cost savings tied to the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican Party establishment has vociferously opposed.

The part of Ryan’s plan that has drawn the most criticism is his use as cost savings the $716 billion that President cut from long-term Medicare expenditures — mostly from the Medicare Advantage plan. Ryan and the Republican leadership had been characterizing this Obama proposal as a severe cut in Medicare benefits. Yet Ryan proposed to plow back the $716 billion into Medicare improvements, meaning that it would not qualify as a spending cut to reduce the deficit.

Paul Ryan’s budget assumes that killing the Affordable Care Act would lead to major deficit reduction, yet he uses cost savings from the ACA, such as the $716 billion from Medicare, to meet his deficit reduction goals. Ryan and his Republican colleagues generally agree that the medical care status quo is not good but their remedies consist largely of tort reform, buying insurance across state lines and medical savings accounts.

Ryan would supply a voucher to Medicare recipients, which they would use to purchase insurance coverage in the private market. The best way to describe this part of Ryan’s plan is cost-shifting: the federal government would save money but seniors would spend more to buy higher priced private medical care insurance. The medical care cost overhead expenditure would also increase in the nation.

In regard to Medicaid, the Ryan budget would give each state a pot of money at the beginning of the fiscal year; however, if Medicaid costs should prove to be higher, the states would need to either provide the extra funding, cut back on benefits and coverage, or try to shift costs to the recipients.

The Ryan budget has only two tax rates: 10 and 25 percent. This will be a huge windfall for wealthy tax filers. As in his prior two budgets, Ryan proposes to cut tax preferences but he has yet to identify even one preference he would trim or eliminate. During the vice-presidential debate last year, Ryan was specifically asked to identify one tax break he would reduce or eliminate, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t; also, he was asked that sort of question by reporters on the campaign trail. But the epitome of his failure to provide answers came in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, who asked Ryan to name one tax break he would trim or eliminate. Ryan replied that there wasn’t enough time. Wallace responded, in effect, “I will give you all the time you need.”

Looking back at the Romney-Ryan campaign is appropriate here. When the Tax Policy Center (TPC) calculated the Romney tax plan would reduce revenues by $5 trillion over ten years — it was really $6 trillion, because the TPC didn’t include the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts — it concluded that if all tax preferences  were eliminated, it would reduce the revenue loss by only $1.9 trillion.

One reason that Paul Ryan is loath to name any tax reductions is that he knows that the ones that would provide the greatest revenue loss are highly popular: the home mortgage deduction, the medical expense deduction, the child care credit and the like.

Paul Ryan has staged a copout on military spending: he says that his budget will keep military spending at a level recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is almost inconceivable that the Joint Chiefs will lead any effort for a major drawdown in the structure of the armed forces. Much could be written about a bloated Pentagon, but put in a nutshell, the United States, with about 4.8 percent of the world’s population, accounts for over 40 percent of world military spending.#

In regard to discretionary domestic spending, Ryan has disguised major cuts in such programs as Pell grants and food stamps by putting them in very broad categories.

There is a Ayn Randian aspect to the Paul Ryan budget, as Ayn Rand was a heroine of Ryan’s and Rand stressed individual selfishness as a behavioral model. Paul Ryan’s proposals on Medicare and Medicaid would put recipients more on their own, thereby nullifying the collectivism that Ayn Rand so loathed and feared.

# When comparisons are made of military spending among the nations of the world, only the Pentagon budget and the Afghanistan war are considered to be military expenditures. A more accurate picture of U.S. military spending involves the category termed militarily-related spending. This category includes the Department of Energy’s stewardship of the U.S. inventory of nuclear weapons; the State Department’s need  for overseas embassy security — provided primarily by U.S. Marines — the intelligence agencies providing intelligence for military operations; and that portion of the interest on the debt caused by unfunded past wars. Even some part of the Department of Homeland Security budget could be considered to be crucial to our national security.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Flawed Explanation on Targeting Americans

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote an article, republished on the editorial page of the March 9, 2013  Albuquerque Journal, in which he endorsed Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster demand for greater clarity about the legal authority for drone stricks, especially when U.S. citizens are involved. I agree with Mr. Robinson that Senator Paul raised some significant and valuable concerns  in his nearly 13-hour filibuster; however, I disagree with Mr. Robinson’s acceptance of Attorney General Eric Holder’s two-sentence reply to Paul’s question if U.S. citizens could be summarily killed on U.S. soil without due process of law.

Initially, pre-filibuster, Holder gave the Obama administration’s reply to a letter Senator Paul had written to John Brennan, then a nominee to be CIA director. Holder wrote that there was no intention to use drone strikes in the United States, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Post-filibuster, Holder wrote a two-sentence letter to Paul, in which Holder said that the only way a U.S. citizen could be killed on U.S. soil was if he/she was engaged in combat.

Given the gravity of the question raised by Senator Paul about targeting U.S. citizens for death, a much more detailed answer was in order for Attorney General Holder, providing a legal rationale as to why a U.S. citizen could be killed without due process of law, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The other problem with Holder’s reply is that he didn’t try to define combat. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama agree that the whole world is a battlefield in the campaign against terrorism; therefore, the entire U.S. is a battle zone. Acts which might not be normally construed as engagement in combat, might be regarded as such in an all-encompassing struggle against terrorism.