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Tag: joni ernst

Koch Networks Using Dark Money To Kill Voting Rights Bills

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Earlier this year, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives took a stand against voter suppression when they passed House Resolution 1, a.k.a. the For the People Act — a comprehensive voting rights/election reform bill that now faces an uphill climb in the U.S. Senate under the rules of the filibuster, which requires 60 or more votes for most legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Senate Republicans are vehemently opposed to HR 1, and according to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, "dark money" from "the Koch network" is helping to fuel that opposition.

In an article published on May 28, CREW's Meghan Faulkner and Miru Osuga explain, "There's a whole lot of dark money behind the opponents of democracy reform. The Koch network alone has spent tens of millions backing many of the senators who are opposing the For the People Act, which would overhaul campaign finance rules and enforcement and make it harder for dark money groups, like those in the Koch network, to secretly influence our elections."

Faulkner and Osuga note how much "the Koch network" has spent "backing" GOP opponents of the For the People Act, including $5.6 million spent on Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, $1.3 million on Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, $4.9 million on Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, $4.3 million on Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, $5.7 million on Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and $4.3 million on Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

"All told," Faulkner and Osuga note, "groups associated with the Koch network have spent over $100 million boosting the campaigns of current Republican senators, none of whom are supportive of comprehensive campaign finance reform. That total doesn't even include millions of dollars in additional dark money spending from these groups that was never reported to the Federal Election Commission."

KochPAC is a political action committee funded by employees of Koch Industries and their allies. Billionaire oligarch Charles Koch, the 85-year-old brother of the late David Koch, has been a major supporter of right-wing causes.

According to CREW, one of the things that troubles "the Koch network" is how "popular" the proposals of the For the People Act are. The bill comes at a time when Republicans in state legislatures all over the United States are aggressively pushing voter suppression bills.

"The Koch network and other dark money groups know exactly how popular this democracy reform is and how much it threatens the broken campaign finance system they depend on," Faulkner and Osuga stress. "That's why they're doing their best to defeat it quietly in Congress, aided by the senators whose campaigns they've boosted with millions of dollars of secret money."

How To Deal With The Military Pandemic Of Sexual Assault

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Given the more than 60 Democratic and Republican votes lined up, the Senate is poised to move forward with a new bill that would change the way the military handles sexual assault and other felony crimes by service members. Sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the new law would assign decision-making on sexual-assault cases and a host of other felonies, including some hate crimes, to a specially trained team of uniformed prosecutors.

While the bill will indeed inch the military away from its antiquated practice of allowing commanders to decide whether to prosecute their own officers and soldiers on sexual-assault allegations, if baffles me that it's still allowed to handle its own violent crimes rather than having them dealt with through our criminal justice system.

Why should our troops enjoy such protected status, as though they exist in a separate reality from the rest of society? Arguably, in these years, the face of America has indeed been militarized, whether we like it or not. After all, we've just lived through two decades of endless war, American-style, in the process wasting significantly more than $6.4 trillion dollars, more than 7,000 uniformed lives, and scores of health- and safety-related opportunity costs.

Meanwhile, it's taken years for the public and members of Congress to begin to recognize that it matters how the military treats its own — and the civilians with whom they interact. (After all, many felonies committed by such personnel against civilians, at home and abroad, are prosecuted within the military-justice system.) That Congress has taken so long to support even such a timid bill in a bipartisan fashion and that few think to question whether felonies committed by American soldiers should be prosecuted within the military, suggests one thing: that we're a long, long way from taking responsibility for those who kill, maim, and rape in all our names.

I'm a military spouse. My husband has been a U.S. Navy officer for 18 years. During the decade we've been together, he's served on two different submarines and in three Department of Defense and other federal staff jobs in Washington.

In many ways, our family has been very fortunate. We have dual incomes that offer us privileges the majority of Americans, let alone military families, don't have, including being able to seek healthcare providers outside the military's decrepit health system. All this is just my way of saying that when I critique the military and my experiences in it, keep in mind that others have suffered so much more than my family.

The Military Criminal Justice System

Let me also say that I do understand why the military needs its own system for dealing with infractions specific to its mission (when, for instance, troops desert, defy orders, or make gross errors in judgment). The Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ) is federal law enacted by Congress. Analogous to our civilian legal system, it is of no small importance, given the potential cost to our nation's security should the deadly equipment the military owns not be operated with the utmost sobriety and discretion.

In such cases, the standards listed in the UCMJ are implemented according to procedures outlined in another document, the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). Essentially, the MCM provides a framework for trying alleged offenses of various kinds within the military, laying out the maximum penalties that may be imposed for each of them.

Included in this are procedures for nonjudicial punishments in which a commanding officer, rather than a court-martial judge and a panel of other personnel (functionally, a jury), determines what penalties are to be imposed on a service member accused of a crime. Crucially, the results of such nonjudicial punishment do not appear on an officer's criminal record.

Among other things what this means is that a commanding officer can decide that a soldier accused of sexual assault will be subjected to nonjudicial punishment rather than a military trial. In that case, the public will have no way of knowing that he committed such an act. No less crucially, the MCM leaves it entirely up to the commanding officer of a soldier's unit whether or not such allegations will be dealt with at all, no matter the format. That's why the Senate bill under consideration is of importance. At least it will remove the decision-making process on prosecuting reported assault cases from officers who may have a vested interest in covering up such assaults.

Because here's the grim reality, folks: sexual assault in the military is a pandemic all its own. According to a 2018 Defense Department survey across five branches of the armed services (the most recent such document we have), 20,500 assaults occurred that year against active duty women and men. Yet fewer than half of those alleged crimes were reported within the military's justice system and just 108 convictions resulted.

What this tells us is that commanding officers exercise a stunning decision-making power over whether allegations of rape get tried at all — and generally use it to suppress such charges. Consider, for example, that, of the 2,339 formally reported sexual assaults that military investigators recommended for arbitration in 2019, commanders took action in only 1,629 of those cases. In other words, they left about a third of them unexamined.

Of the ones brought to the military justice system, fewer than half were actually tried in front of a judge through the court-martial system. At worst, the remainder of the accused received nonjudicial punishments from commanders — extra duties, reductions in pay or rank — or were simply discharged from the service. And all this happened entirely at the discretion of commanding officers.

Those same commanders, who have the power to try (or not try) allegations of violence, generally have a vested interest in covering up such accusations, lest they reflect badly on them. And while you might think that sexual-assault survivors would have a say in command culture, as it happens their "anonymous" contributions to such reports sometimes turn out not to be anonymous at all. In smaller units, commanders can sometimes figure out who has reported such incidents of violence and misconduct, since such reports regularly include the gender and rank of those who have come forward.

All of this explains why the Gillibrand-Ernst bill is a welcome departure from a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. At least those with less of a conflict of interest and (hopefully) more than just a token amount of training when it comes to sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of violence will be assigned the job of deciding whether or not to try alleged felonies.

Let's Take This Further

And yet, while that bill is far better than nothing, it's distinctly a case of too little, too late. The real problem is that Americans generally view the military just as the military views itself — an island apart from the general populace, deserving of special allowances, even when it comes to sexual crimes.

I recently spoke with a young female Air Force recruit who saw the military as her sole means of paying for a four-year university without carrying crippling debt into middle age. What struck me, however, was how much more she feared attacks by male airmen than the possibility that she might ever be wounded or killed in a combat zone. And in that ordering of fears, she couldn't be more on target, as the stats on combat deaths and reported sexual assault bear out.

In addition, these days, new recruits like her enter the military in the shadow of the bone-chilling murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army soldier. She went missing in April 2020 from Fort Hood, Texas, shortly after reporting that a superior officer had sexually solicited her, repeatedly made an example of her after she refused him, and finally approached her while she was taking care of her personal hygiene. Her dismembered body was later found in a box on the base. Her alleged killers included a soldier who had been accused of sexual harassment in a separate case and his civilian girlfriend. An Army report on Guillen's murder and the events that led to it concluded that none of her supervisors had taken appropriate action in response to her allegations of sexual harassment.

The murder sparked public outrage, including among women in the armed services who quickly coined the Twitter hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen, and went public with their own accounts of being assaulted while in the military. Her case would, in fact, be a major catalyst driving the Senate bill, which has attracted support from a striking range of sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Though I never thought I'd find myself quoting Ted Cruz, let me echo his reaction to the bill: "It's about damn time."

A Small Start

Yet Guillen's murder and the legislation it sparked begs this question: If it took the death of a young woman who reported sexual harassment to launch such a relatively timid bill, what will it take to move the judging of violent crimes entirely off military bases and into the regular court system? I shudder to think about the answer to that question.

The morning I went into labor with my daughter, my husband was on a military base a few minutes away, carrying out his duties as executive officer on a ballistic missile submarine. As the pains grew stronger with each passing hour, I phoned the base to let him know that I was in labor. I was eager to reach him in time to be taken to the hospital before a pending snow storm made driving through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains treacherous.

His colleagues repeatedly insisted that he was unavailable, even to them. Finally, I said to one of them between gasps, "Oh for Christ's sake, just tell him I'm in labor and I need him to drive me to the hospital!"

Four hours later, having heard nothing from the base, I watched my husband, looking beleaguered and sad, walk through the door. No one had even bothered to give him my message. As I sat up on the floor where I was trying to cope with the pain, he slumped momentarily on the couch in his blue camo uniform and told me that he'd been called upon to assist in the hearing of a sexual-abuse and possible rape case involving the daughter of one of his sailors. I listened, while he prepared to take me to the hospital, as he described what he had dealt with. I could see the stress on his face, the drawn look that came from hours of listening to human suffering.

At least, that case was heard. However, another point is no less important: that a group of men — my husband and other commanding officers with, assumedly, zero knowledge about sexual assault — had been placed in charge of hearing a case on the possible rape of a child.

In scores of other cases I've heard about in my years as a military spouse and as a therapist for veterans and military families, I've been similarly struck by the ways in which male commanders without training have treated the survivors of such assaults and women more generally. I've seen some of those same men joke about how women's behavior and moods, even abilities, change depending on their "time of the month" or pregnancy status. I've heard some make sexist or homophobic jokes about female and gay service members or heard about them threatening to "rip them another asshole" when fellow shipmates failed to meet expectations. Within the military, violence is the first thing you notice.

That day, trembling with the pangs of late-stage labor as my husband rushed me through the falling snow to the hospital with our daughter about to be born, I thought: Where will she be safe in this world? Who's responsible for protecting her? For protecting us? I hugged my belly tighter and resolved to try to do my part.

And today, years later, I still wonder whether anyone beyond a group of senators and military advocates will show an interest in holding service members accountable for respecting the dignity of the rest of us.

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Republicans Vote No, Their States Win Big In Rescue Plan

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

As President Joe Biden signed Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill into law Thursday afternoon, Republicans falsely claimed the bill only serves to bail out "blue states" at the expense of "red states" — but the landmark legislation will deliver massive funding and relief to many deep-red states in need during the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan will send more than $195 billion in aid to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as $130.2 billion in aid to local governments throughout the country, benefiting red and blue states alike. In fact, according to a recent Reuters analysis, traditionally Republican states will receive a slightly disproportionate amount of federal aid from the package as compared to traditionally Democratic states — $3,192 per state resident as opposed to $3,160. And the bill levies no extra taxes on red states.

But on Thursday afternoon, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) took to social media to criticize the legislation, tweeting, "It's red states like Georgia who will have to bail out the deep blue states who recklessly spent taxpayer $ on irresponsible decisions over the past year. They need to face the consequences of their actions rather than lean on the red states & the stimulus to bail them out!"

This has been a frequent talking point of Republicans, with Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst claiming last week that Iowans shouldn't have to "foot the bill for other states' bad behavior and mismanagement," and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy complaining in mid-February about Democrats seeking "blue-state slush funds." Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) has opposed state and local funding to his own state, hard hit by the pandemic, despite criticism from Florida mayors.

"Biden wants to spend more than $350 billion to bailout wasteful states," Scott said in January. "I've been clear — asking taxpayers to bailout failed politicians in liberal states like New York and Illinois and save them from their own bad decisions isn't fair to fiscally responsible states like Florida."

The accusation of "blue state bailouts" may have originated with Donald Trump early in the pandemic, as he frequently made false claims that blue states merely wanted a government handout at the expense of other states.

Trump tweeted in April, "Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, too, sought to block funds to state and local governments in the first COVID-19 relief bill passed last spring, the HEROES Act, claiming the legislation was a "blue state bailout" despite the $7 billion it directed toward his home state of Kentucky. He later touted himself as having providing relief to the citizens of Kentucky — despite his own efforts to fight the legislation.

But despite Republican claims, a third-quarter report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that many red states were harmed by the pandemic. Six states saw the steepest drops in tax revenue (Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida, Oregon, and Texas), and of these, two-thirds — Alaska, North Dakota, Florida, and Texas — are traditionally Republican strongholds.

These four states in particular suffered economically during the pandemic due to their dependence on tourism and natural resources, both of which saw depletions during lockdown with the collapse of tourism and oil prices.

The report also found that the 22 states that saw economic improvement during the third quarter of the pandemic were a fairly even mix of red and blue states.

Meanwhile, although not a single congressional Republican voted for the historic $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Biden is planning a trip to visit states all over the country, red and blue alike, to celebrate its passage and the substantial aid it provides to every state.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

The Republican ‘Protect Act’ Will Protect Nobody’s Health Care

As Election Day draws near, another important date is looming for tens of millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions: Nov. 10, the day the Supreme Court will hear arguments on striking down the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the claims of Republican lawmakers, who swear abolishing Obamacare will not result in millions losing insurance, an examination of their alternative, the so-called Protect Act, shows that they're lying through their teeth.

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Vulnerable Senate Republicans Squirm Over Trump’s Pandemic Confession

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Back in July, as Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was being pressed on her previous assertion that two Ebola deaths on Obama's watch amounted to "failed leadership," Ernst told CNN that Donald Trump was really "stepping forward" on stemming the coronavirus. At the time, despite 130,000 Americans having already died, Ernst managed to squeeze out that claim with a relatively straight face.

But now that we know Trump did exactly the opposite by admittedly downplaying the pandemic, Ernst, the erstwhile self-professed hog castrator, is running scared. Thursday marked the second day in a row the GOP incumbent senator who's locked in a very tight reelection race ducked questions about Trump's taped confession that he lied to the American public about how deadly the coronavirus is.

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Joni Ernst Reveals GOP Would Attempt Lameduck Supreme Court Confirmation

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) reportedly said Friday that she would confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court chosen by Donald Trump in November or December even if Joe Biden had won election to the White House.

Iowa PBS senior producer Andrew Batt tweeted that Ernst said during the taping of an appearance on the network's show "Iowa Press" that "she would support Supreme Court justice hearings/votes in Nov-Dec lame duck session in late 2020 after election. Adds she would support even if President Trump & Senate Rs lose November election."

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As Millions Lose Jobs, Republicans Still Boast About Employment

More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks, as the economy craters during the coronavirus pandemic. But based on their campaign websites, Donald Trump and a number of his Republican allies are still running for election on pre-COVID-19 job numbers and Trump's 2017 tax cuts bill.

As of April 14, the website of Trump's 2020 reelection campaign contained a section bragging about the "lowest" unemployment in years and said Trump had "jump-started America's economy into record growth" and millions of new jobs. At that point, about 17 million Americans had filed new unemployment insurance claims, wiping out the 6.1 million new jobs Trump claimed to have created.

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Republican Senators Tout Enhanced Unemployment Benefits They Opposed

Last week, 47 Republican senators and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to make unemployment benefits less generous in the coronavirus relief legislation.

Although their amendment to cap unemployment insurance was unsuccessful, several Republican senators spent the next few days bragging about the more generous benefits in the final bill.

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally

On March 26, McSally’s office sent an email touting the robust benefits she opposed just three earlier. The stimulus bill “makes benefits more generous by adding $600 per week on top of what the state normally pays in unemployment and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits,” the email said. “And provisions will ensure state and local governments and non-profits can pay unemployment to their employees.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn

Three days after voting for the amendment to curtail unemployment benefits, Cornyn bragged about the increased assistance in a press release. Cornyn described the legislation as a “lifeline” for families that will help “cover their rent, groceries, electric bills, and other expenses until they can make other arrangements, like apply for unemployment insurance under our beefed up provisions.”

The statement contained a section noting that the bill “expands unemployment insurance for Texas workers,” including “an extra $600 weekly federal UI benefit on top of the state maximum temporarily.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell voted against additional benefits, but that did not stop him from touting them just three days later in a March 26 press release.

The release states that the CARES Act “provides additional benefits to each recipient of unemployment insurance for up to four months and an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits after state benefits are no longer available,” adding that it “helps states pay for certain additional unemployment insurance costs.”

Montana Sen. Steve Daines

On the same day the final legislation passed, Daines released a statement bragging about the assistance Montana workers will receive from the legislation.

“The aid package puts Montana workers first, expands unemployment insurance,” Daines’ statement noted. It also referenced “$250 billion for unemployment insurance — this is to give relief to workers who lost their jobs because of this pandemic.”

The statement did not note that the unemployment insurance would have been less generous if Daines had gotten his way.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst

Ernst described her vote for the CARES Act as “swift, bold action to deliver immediate aid to folks in Iowa, and across the country,” in a March 25 press release. She bragged that the legislation “bolsters unemployment benefits for workers and provides assistance to self-employed and contractors through a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.”

The statement does not mention her vote against the bolstered unemployment benefits.

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler

Not all senators took credit for what they voted against.

Even though she is embroiled in a stock-selling scandal connected with the coronavirus crisis, Loeffler touted her opposition to more generous help for the unemployed during the pandemic.

The multimillionaire senator released a statement two days after voting for stingier unemployment benefits saying she was “disappointed that the amendment to fix the unemployment insurance provisions failed.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.