The Houston Chronicle published an extensive investigation of worker injuries and fatalities in Texas oil and gas fields, highlighting a lack of federal safety standards protecting onshore drill workers.
From 2007 to 2012, 664 US workers were killed in oil and gas fields, with 40 percent of deaths taking place in Texas. Sixty-five Texas oil and gas workers died in 2012 alone. In that same year, seventy-nine lost limbs, eighty-two were crushed, ninety-two suffered burns and 675 broke bones while working in the fields.
Reporter Lise Olsen finds several factors contributing to these numbers, from oil and gas employers recklessly cutting corners to government inspectors glossing over safety hazards. On top are lax federal regulations that don’t do much to spur improvement. Consider this:
At onshore oil and gas drilling sites, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is required to investigate only those accidents that kill workers or that cause three or more to be hospitalized. That translated to only about 150 of 18,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in the last six years in Texas. [Emphasis mine]
Olsen shows how under these standards, the details of accidents “remain locked away in confidential company safety reports, insurance archives or remote courthouse files in lawsuits.” She tells the story of a rig collapse that left a drill worker with a broken jaw, cracks in his spine and permanent brain and memory damage. While the well operator (Apache Corp.) settled with the worker in court, OSHA did not investigate the accident because less than three workers required hospitalization.
There’s a lot more in the investigation, which you can read here. The Chronicle will publish a second part this Sunday.
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For a long time now, it’s been obvious that the United States can’t sustain the bloated military budget that it supports now, and with the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan nearly done—at least from the standpoint of direct US involvement with ground forces—Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel yesterday outlined a preview of how the Obama administration will approach defense spending over the next several years.
But the cuts, though substantial, ought to be seen as only a down payment on the level of defense spending reductions that are needed. Last evening, on PBS Newshour, defense budget expert Gordon Adams of American University said:
I call this 50 percent towards reality.… We’re coming down right now in the defense budget at about a pace like other drawdowns that we have done after Korea, after Vietnam, at the end of the Cold War. We have always come down somewhere around 30 percent in constant dollars from the top of spending to the way we reached the bottom. And we’re at the shallow end of that right now.
According to the Defense Department’s release about Hagel’s proposals—which still have to get through Congress and its Iron Triangle, including hawkish members of the House and Senate, defense lobbyists and the military itself—the Defence Secretary’s plan includes “shrinking the Army to its smallest size since before World War II and eliminating an entire fleet of Air Force fighter planes.” Hagel and Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that “the Pentagon budget that will shrink by more than $75 billion over the next two years.” Among the details: the size of the US Army will shrink from 520,000 to as low as 440,000 active duty soldiers and the Marine Corps will be cut from 190,000 to 182,000. And Hagel frankly linked the cuts to what America can afford:
An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy. It is also larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready.… This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to Congress that is not a war footing budget.
The Obama-Hagel DOD budget ideas are already drawing intense fire from hawks and neoconservatives, including in Congress, but there’s plenty for progressives to complain about, too. Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels and Hagel announced that the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers.
Indeed, the military-industrial complex was so thrilled about continuing Pentagon support for big-budget, high-tech weapons systems that, according to The Wall Street Journal, stock prices for major defense contractors rose after the announcement, and the Journal said:
The Pentagon is proposing to reverse a four-year slide in its weapons-buying and research spending, lifting prospects for higher revenue at hard-hit military contractors including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.
The $496 billion fiscal 2015 request outlined on Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would protect most of the Pentagon’s major programs in return for limited cuts, canceling an Army combat vehicle and halting purchases of the Navy’s littoral combat ship. The cuts would fund new projects including cyberwarfare capabilities, $1 billion for a more fuel-efficient jet engine, and plans for a new Navy surface ship.
And the Journal added:
Only three of the Pentagon’s largest contractors by revenue—BAE, Boeing and United Technologies—didn’t register 52-week highs as the Pentagon’s plans emerged.
Naturally, recalcitrant hawks are already denouncing the cuts in personnel and the related reductions in spending on military pay, pensions and healthcare benefits. For instance:
In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon faulted President Barack Obama on Monday for “trying to solve our financial problems on the back of the military.” The Pentagon has already given up more than its fair share of the federal budget, McKeon said, adding Washington’s real spending problem is with mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not the armed forces. “Unless we address that, we’re just going to keep digging ourselves further and further in the hole,” McKeon said.
Others, like Senator Kelly Ayotte (R.-NH), will weigh in on their favorite programs, such as the A-10 Warthog plane that will be canceled under Hagel’s proposal.
And Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s not noted as a defense expert, also lambasted Hagel:
Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in 70 years does not accurately reflect the current security environment, in which the administration’s own officials have noted the threats facing our country are more diffuse than ever. Cutting key Air Force and naval capabilities just as we are trying to increase our presence in the Pacific does not make strategic sense. I am concerned that we are on a path to repeat the mistakes we’ve made during past attempts to cash in on expected peace dividends that never materialized.
But Rubio, if he wants to run for president, better get his talking points straight, because many of his Tea Party and libertarian-conservative backers—some of whom are outright isolationists—are more than willing to cut back on defense spending.
The cuts to military benefits, such as pensions and healthcare, ought to be applauded—but they’ll be exceedingly difficult to enact over the opposition of veterans groups and others. Those benefits are incredibly excessive as is, designed in part to attract enlistees to volunteer for the armed forces, and the military won’t give them up without a brutal fight to the finish. In the past, when presidents have tried to cut into these bloated benefits, they’ve been shot down every time—yet, from a budget point of view, that’s where the big bucks are.
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There were many important hearings at the New York City Council yesterday. At one, tearful relatives talked about what it was like to watch a spouse get mowed down by a reckless cabbie, or hear that their son would never make it home because a careless city bus driver had run them over. At another, woman testified about what it meant when a labor and delivery unit at an outer-borough hospital shut down. But the most interesting—and, for the progressive agenda, perhaps the most important—hearing was about the Council itself and how to make it a more vibrant and democratic body. In the words of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the goal is a Council “of unity, equality and fairness... one that encourages debate.”
A focus on the Council's rules is not itself unusual: There is a standing Rules Committee to consider such changes, and each Council term begins with the adoption of the rules that will govern the distribution of power among the speaker, committee chairs and individual members. What was different about Monday's event was that the Council began a full-scale reconsideration of how that power ought to be divvied up. As Rules Committee chairman Brad Lander noted in a nod to Mark-Viverito, “It's not often that those in power are willing to think about giving some of it up in the public interest.”
The process itself reflects the principle, according to Lander: Rather than bringing forward a detailed policy plan for the public to weigh in on, the hearing was a broad discussion of how changes might be made in a few key areas, like the way bills are written and brought up for a vote, the authority of committee chairs and the distribution of discretionary funds.
It was clear in yesterday's hearing that the rule changes are not a simple, black-and-white thing. If you govern the distribution of discretionary dollars by formula rather than individual members' choices, are you really taking the politics out of funding, or merely rewarding those institutions who can play the higher form of politics that affects the formula itself? If you make it easier for members to write bills—the system is currently opaque and controlled by the speaker—does that mean the Council will be flooded by symbolic measures or, even worse, that bad ideas will somehow squeak through the system? Even the leading good government organizations who testified had subtle differences of opinion on the wisest way to tinker with how the system is run. People agree on the broad strokes, said Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey, but as the cliché goes, “the devil is in the details.”
And, as Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams noted, how much of the problem with Council governance is about custom rather than the rules themselves. There have been, he said, “things councilmembers were empowered to do but did not historically choose to do” because of a “historic running of the Council that made members feel they could not exercise” the powers they had.
Lander says more hearings are planned, and witnesses called on the committee to make the proposed Rules changes as transparent as possible—and to revisit them every couple years to, as NYPIRG's Gene Russianoff put it, “make sure they don't go stale.”
For those of us who've seen the Council's substantive work often reduced to caricature by tabloid editorial boards, who winced when the Council forever stained itself by extending term limits at Mayor Bloomberg's command in 2008, and who want to see how this Council will strike the balance of being a partner of the mayor but not a puppet, it will be a fascinating process to watch.
“It's not often that people in power consider the possibility that those powers may be curtailed,” noted Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman. “I'm convinced that a more democratic, open, active City Council that solicits the input and takes advantage of the strengths that all members bring to the table will ultimately be a stronger City Council.”
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Fifty years ago, no one gave 22-year-old Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. a chance against the heavyweight champion, Charles “Sonny” Liston. Even Clay’s own corner pre-emptively mapped out the quickest route from the hospital from the arena. Their fear was rooted in reality. Liston had an arrest record that could fill a file cabinet and in previous lives had been employed by the mob as a strike breaker and enforcer. The recently deceased poet Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) called Liston “the big black Negro in every white man’s hallway, waiting to do him in, deal him under for all the hurts white men, through their arbitrary order, have been able to inflict on the world.”
Before Liston’s championship fight when he won the title against Floyd Patterson, President Kennedy took the time to call Patterson and express that it would not be in “the negroes best interest” if Liston won. As one writer noted dryly, “The fight definitely was not in Patterson’s best interest.” Liston destroyed Patterso, setting the stage for his fight against Clay.
The great James Baldwin was sent to cover Liston before the fight. He wrote, in a brilliant essay, “[Liston] is far from stupid; if not, in fact, stupid at all. And while there is a great deal of violence in him, I sensed no cruelty at all. On the contrary, he reminded me of big, black men I have know who acquired the reputation of being tough in order to conceal the fact that they weren’t hard. Anyone who cared to could turn them into taffy.” Baldwin also pointed that Liston had moved seamlessly in the white-sports media from villain to hero, as they were counting on him to shut the mouth of the young Olympic gold medalist they called “the Lousiville Lip” and “Gaseous Cassius.”
Clay had a gift for gab that made a sportswriter’s job easy. He had also been keeping close company with Malcolm X, and rumors flew through the boxing world that Clay was going to join the Nation of Islam. Malcolm, himself, was a fixture at Clay’s Miami training facility and took great joy in tweaking the sportswriters’ assumptions about the fight. While everyone was predicting an easy knockout for Liston, Malcolm said, “Clay will win. He is the finest Negro athlete I have ever known and he will mean more to his people than Jackie Robinson. Robinson is an establishment hero. Clay will be our hero…. Not many people know the quality of mind he has in there. One forgets that although the clown never imitates a wise man, a wise man can imitate the clown.” Although the verdict was out on whether he was wise or a clown, no one gave him a chance against Liston. But Ali, quicker, stronger and bolder than anyone knew, shocked the nation and beat Liston. He then famously shouted to the heavens and over a reporter’s questions, “I shook up the world!”
The day after Liston fell, Clay announced publicly that he was a member of the NOI. Words cannot do justice to the firestorm this caused. Whatever disagreements one may have with the Nation of Islam, the fact is that the heavyweight champion of the world was joining the organization of Malcolm X. The Olympic gold medalist had linked arms with a group that called white people “devils” and stood unapologetically for self-defense and racial separation. As Mike Marqusee wrote, “Clay’s embrace of the Nation was provocative in the extreme. First, he was repudiating Christianity in a predominantly Christian country, in favour of what was seen as an exotic and, at best, suspect religion. Secondly, he was repudiating the integrationist agenda of the civil rights movement at the height of that movement’s prestige (six months after the March on Washington), in favour of a militantly separatist politics and practise. And thirdly, he was repudiating American national identity in favour of a Black Nationalist (and internationalist) identity. In the midst of the Cold War, at a time when patriotism was considered de rigeur [sic] for anyone in American public life, this was perceived as virtually treasonous.”
Not surprisingly, the power brokers of the conservative, mobbed-up, corrupt fight world lost their minds. Jimmy Cannon, perhaps the most famous sportswriter in America, wrote, “The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…. Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”
Ali was attacked not only by Cannon and his ilk but also by the respectable wing of the civil rights movement. “Cassius Clay may as well be an honorary member of the white citizen councils,” said Roy Wilkins. Ali’s response at this point was very defensive. He repeatedly said that his wasn’t a political but purely religious conversion. His defensiveness reflected the perspective of the NOI. Ali said, “I’m not going to get killed trying to force myself on people who don’t want me. Integration is wrong. White people don’t want it, the Muslims don’t want it. So what’s wrong with the Muslims? I’ve never been in jail. I’ve never been in court. I don’t join integration marches and I never hold a sign.”
But much like Malcolm X, who at the time was engineering a political break from the Nation, Clay—much to the concern of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad—found it impossible to explain his religious world view without speaking to the mass black freedom struggle exploding outside the boxing ring. He was his own worst enemy—claiming that his was a religious transformation and had nothing to do with politics, but then in the next breath saying, “I ain’t no Christian. I can’t be when I see all the colored people fighting for forced integration get blown up. They get hit by the stones and chewed by dogs and then these crackers blow up a Negro Church…. People are always telling me what a good example I would be if I just wasn’t Muslim. I’ve heard over and over why couldn’t I just be more like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray. Well they are gone and the Black man’s condition is just the same ain’t it? We’re still catching hell.”
If the establishment press was outraged, the new generation of activists was electrified. “I remember when Ali joined the Nation,” recalled civil rights leader Julian Bond. “The act of joining was not something many of us particularly liked. But the notion that he would do it, that he’d jump out there, join this group that was so despised by mainstream America and be proud of it, sent a little thrill through you…. He was able to tell white folks for us to go to hell; that I’m going to do it my way.”
At this time, he was known briefly as Cassius X, but Elijah Muhammad gave Clay the name Muhammad Ali—a tremendous honor and a way to ensure that Ali would side with Elijah Muhammad in his split with Malcolm X. But the internal politics of the Nation were not what the powers that be and the media noticed. To them, the Islamic name change—something that had never occurred before in sports—was a sharp slap in the face.
Almost overnight, whether an individual called the champ Ali or Clay indicated where they stood on civil rights, Black Power and eventually the war in Vietnam. The New York Times insisted on calling him Clay as an editorial policy for years thereafter.
This all took place against the backdrop of a black freedom struggle rolling from the South to the North. During the summer of 1964, there were 1,000 arrests of civil rights activists, thirty buildings bombed and thirty-six churches burned by the Ku Klux Klan and their sympathizers. In 1964, the first of the urban uprisings and riots in the northern ghettoes took place. The politics of Black Power was starting to emerge and Muhammad Ali became the critical symbol in this transformation. As news anchor Bryant Gumbel said, “One of the reasons the civil rights movement went forward was that Black people were able to overcome their fear. And I honestly believe that for many Black Americans, that came from watching Muhammad Ali. He simply refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage.”
A concrete sign of Ali’s early influence was seen in 1965 when Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee volunteers in Lowndes County, Alabama, launched an independent political party. Their new group was the first to use the symbol of a black panther. Their bumper stickers and T-shirts were of a black silhouette of a panther and their slogan was straight from the champ: “WE Are the Greatest.”
Yes, it is certainly true that Cassius Clay was born on January 17, 1942, but Muhammad Ali, in every way, was born fifty years ago in Miami.
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When John Dingell was a child, he met Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who dreamed eighty years ago that a groundbreaking Social Security proposal might feature a publicly funded national healthcare program.
Under pressure from the American Medical Association, FDR and his congressional allies scaled back the Social Security proposal.
But the Dingell family kept the dream alive.
In 1943, Dingell’s father, a congressman from Michigan who had played a critical role in enacting the initial Social Security Act of 1935, joined a pair of New Deal stalwarts from the Senate—New York Senator Robert Wagner and Montana Senator James Murray—to propose the rough outline for a single-payer national healthcare system.
Seeking re-election in 1944, Roosevelt campaigned for an “Economic Bill of Rights” that included both “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” and “the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.”
There was a powerful sense that the Dingell-Murray-Wagner bill would frame the underpinnings for that initiative. Its sponsors traveled the country promising to “not give up until the fight is won.”
After Roosevelt died at the beginning of his fourth term in 1945, Harry Truman pressed the issue—only to be blocked by the combination of Republican obstruction, red-baiting and an expensive campaign of opposition.
But John Dingell Sr. kept introducing his national healthcare proposal through the rest of the 1940s and into the 1950s. And after John Dingell Jr. took his late father’s House seat in 1955, he continued to introduce it as “The United States National Health Insurance Act.”
Much will be made, with the news that John Dingell Jr. will retire from the House at the close of his twenty-ninth full term, of the congressman’s remarkable tenure—elected during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term, he will leave as the longest-serving member in the history of Congress. As Michigan political veteran Steve Mitchell noted, “With the exception of John Quincy Adams, there’s no one with a longer participation in the affairs of the United States than John Dingell.”
Surely, something will be made of the fact that the dean of the House of Representatives says that serving in the chamber has become “obnoxious…because of the acrimony and bitterness,” in Congress. And of his fierce condemnation of congressional backbiting and obstruction: “The American people could get better government out of monkey island in the local zoo.”
There will, among those who know his record, be recognition that Dingell is leaving as an epic champion of organized labor who opposed flawed trade deals—even when they were sponsored by Democratic presidents. Of his determined opposition, as the guardian of the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society legacies, to any move to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Of his courageous leadership in fights for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and—as the representative of one of the largest Arab-American communities in the United States—of comprehensive and humane immigration reform. And of his prescient votes against the Iraq War and the Patriot Act.
There will be some mention of his history of opposing gun control measures and of his occasional clashes, as the representative from an auto-making district, with environmentalists—as well as his key role in shaping the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. And there should be note of his determined advocacy, as a key committee chairman and exceptionally engaged legislator, for scientific research and safe food and drug laws.
But Dingell’s great legacy remains his advocacy for the healthcare reforms that FDR imagined and his father proposed. He presided over the House vote that approved Medicare in 1965 and was so instrumental in crafting the Affordable Care Act that when a critic asked if he had read the bill, Dingell reportedly replied, “Read it? I wrote it.”
The measure as it was finally enacted—after months of negotiation and compromise—was different from what Dingell initially proposed, and from the single-payer approach long championed by the congressman and his father. But, like many veteran advocates for healthcare reform, Dingell saw the ACA as a vital step—one that moved the country closer to the vision of universal healthcare he had advanced across six decades.
Even as he referred to the ACA as “the first truly transformative piece of social reform legislation in the twenty-first century,” Dingell admitted that it did not contain “as much [control on insurance firms] as I think we ultimately are going to need.”
But he did not hesitate to declare, with the passage of the ACA, that “healthcare is no longer a privilege, it is now a right.”
The struggle to guarantee that right continues. Savvy activists, with unions such as National Nurses United and organizations such as Physicians for a National Health Program and Progressive Democrats of America, argue that it will not be fully realized until the United States adopts a “Medicare for All” approach that operates on a single-payer model.
With the retirement of John Dingell, the House will lose its longest-serving champion of fundamental, and fundamentally humane, healthcare reform. As the wrangling over the ACA and other measures continues, it is valuable to recognize the long arc of history that the Dingells bent toward reform. John Dingell Sr., speaking in 1946, decried “a deadly barrage of baseless propaganda” against his initial proposal. But he reminded Americans then, just as his son did across the ensuing decades, that healthcare must not be the privilege of a wealthy few. It must be the right of all Americans.
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When Brenda Hoster publicly accused the sergeant major of the Army of sexually assaulting her, it nearly destroyed her life. She thought it would be worth it.
“I felt like what I did was the right thing, the ethical thing, not just for me but for all military men and women,” Hoster, a retired sergeant major and public affairs specialist, said in one of two phone conversations. Her complaints against the Army’s top enlisted soldier were part of a wave of sex scandals that rocked the military in the 1990s. Today, Congress is still debating how to best reform the military justice system.
“Nothing’s changed. Why is that?” asked Hoster. “I feel like my journey was for nothing.”
It’s been nearly two decades since Hoster spoke out against Sergeant Major Gene McKinney, who was her boss. She’d stayed quiet for months after the alleged assault, which she said occurred in a Honolulu hotel room in 1996. Hoster said her superiors at the Pentagon told her to resolve her issues with McKinney (who was later acquitted) on her own, and later refused her requests to transfer. Feeling powerless and alone, Hoster chose to end her twenty-two-year career. “There was very little confidence back then about being a whistleblower,” she said. “It was fight or flight, and I flew.”
Around the same time a sex scandal at an Army training base in Aberdeen, Maryland, in which twelve officers were accused of assaulting female trainees, sparked public concern about assault in the military. Aberdeen came on the heels of the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, in which more than 100 officers were accused of assault or harassment. In response to the Aberdeen incident, the Army commissioned a panel to investigate its sexual harassment policies.
One of the appointees was McKinney. “I said, ‘Oh, hell no,’” remembered Hoster. In February of 1997 she decided to go public and filed a formal complaint with the Army. Five other women came forward to accuse McKinney for separate incidents. “It was about the ethics of it—nobody would do anything to help me, and now this guy was going to be on this panel investigating sexual harassment. To me, it was like nobody cared. I cared, and I spoke. And I paid dearly for it,” said Hoster.
After decades of scandals, investigatory panels and trials, the military still has not stemmed the sexual assault epidemic. Nor has it found a way to assure service members like Hoster that they will be heard and protected if they report crimes against them. Only two in ten service members who suffered “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012 reported the incidents. As the system is set up now they must do so through their commanding officer, who then decides whether the accusations warrant a trial by court martial.
“I think nothing’s changed because of the way that these things are brought to justice—or not to justice. I think a lot of it has to do with antiquated, non-functioning military justice system,” Hoster said.
Congress reached a similar conclusion last year after a series of hearings, and passed a number of reforms to the military justice system along with the annual defense spending bill. The new legislation bars commanders from overturning jury convictions, criminalizes retaliation against people who report sexual assault, mandates dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sex crimes, and removes the statute of limitations for such cases.
But Congress has not yet voted on the most significant and controversial reform proposed—Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, which would put military lawyers, rather than commanding officers, in charge of sexual assault prosecutions. Victims’ advocates, veterans and some active duty officers argue that forcing victims to report to commanders exposes them to conflicts of interest and retaliation, and disadvantages accused and accuser alike by putting legal decisions in the hands of officers without legal training. Fifty-four senators—including nine Republicans—support Gillibrand’s bill, which the chamber will take up some time in March. The military’s top brass and two key Democrats on the Armed Services Committee, chairman Carl Levin and Claire McCaskill, oppose the measure, saying it would undermine commanders’ ability to enforce order and discipline in the ranks.
“From my experience, victims—and I hate that word, but can’t think of anything else—the victims don’t have someone they can trust to go to,” Hoster said. “How the hell would they have confidence in the chain of command right now? How could anyone have confidence, with all this stuff happening for years?”
In 1997, after what Hoster described as a “nasty” trial, McKinney was acquitted of all but one count of obstructing justice. Hoster struggled to keep her life together in El Paso, Texas, where she lived “like a recluse.” She had devoted her life to the Army: it gave her a ticket out of small-town Pennsylvania, and she loved the culture of discipline. Without it, she drifted. It took about ten years for the alienation and defensiveness to fade. Now she works for the Veterans Administration in San Antonio, which she considers an extension of her service in the Army. She describes her life largely in positive terms, but acknowledged that occasionally something rekindles her memory of the assault and its drawn-out aftermath.
‘I am a lot better after all these years, but when I start talking about it…” Hoster began to cry, softly. “It never goes away. You just need to learn how to deal with it better. It will always feel bad.”
What makes Hoster angry now is not what she says happened to her; it’s that speaking out didn’t make more of a difference for others in the military. In her work Hoster frequently encounters other veterans struggling with military sexual trauma. “It just disgusts me that it’s still happening,” Hoster said.
Gillibrand’s bill is likely to draw a filibuster, and both sides are contending for a handful of undecided votes. Opponents say the reforms that passed in December are sufficient correctives, and they should be given time to work before imposing deeper change.
Hoster is tired of the military asking for more time. “I fell on my sword for something back then,” she said when asked why the debate still mattered to her. “I’m not gonna turn my back on it.”
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on how the military is trying to stifle further sexual assault reforms
The crisis in Ukraine came to a head this weekend with President Viktor Yanukovych’s hasty flight from Kiev. The western response to his departure now threatens to fracture the Ukrainian government into two regimes: one led by a democratically-elected president and one chosen by the “street.” Appearing on Electric Politics, Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen situated the present conflict in Ukraine within the context of America’s foreign policy toward post–World War II Eastern Europe. He argues that western policymakers seem unaware of the possible consequences of their support for the Ukrainian dissidents. Pointing to a “new Cold War divide in Europe” as one possible outcome, Cohen warns that “our children and grandchildren will pay the price of this winner-take-all policy.”
The “February Revolution” in Ukraine may be just getting underway, and the future of the country may be unsettled, to say the least, for years to come, but the Obama administration needs to approach the situation with great care. That’s because Russia, Ukraine’s powerful next-door neighbor, has vastly greater national interest in Kiev than does the United States. (Indeed, America’s national interest in Ukraine is almost nil, and aside from vague formulations about the need to support “democracy”—something that doesn’t enter into the US vocabulary when dealing with, say, Saudi Arabia—the United States really has nothing to gain or to lose in Ukraine.) For the United States, its priority has to be centered on establishing a decent working relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
On issues from terrorism to energy, and above all in dealing with Iran and Syria, the United States needs Russia. That means, among other things, no victory dances in the end zone by the White House. So far, President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other US officials have kept in constant contact with Putin, Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov and other Russian leaders. But it won’t be easy going.
Apocalyptic scenarios about Ukraine are far-fetched. It’s very, very unlikely that Russia will intervene militarily in Ukraine, despite warnings to that effect from Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, other American politicians and pundits, including The Washington Post, which said in an editorial on Saturday: “It’s possible Mr. Putin will try to use force to impose his dominion over Ukraine once the Sochi Olympics end this weekend.” And it’s equally unlikely that Ukraine, which is deeply split between the pro-Russian east and parts of the south and its more European-oriented west, will break apart. By all accounts, even Viktor Yanukovich’s own Party of Regions—to the extent that it hasn’t fallen apart—has abandoned him, condemning his actions in the deaths of scores of Ukrainians in the final days of the revolution. Still, it’s worrying that the tumultuous Ukrainian parliament, which ordered Yanukovich’s arrest for murder, has also passed a resolution eliminating Russian as one of Ukraine’s languages. That’s not a promising start if there is to be bridge-building in the new Ukraine.
Probably the last thing that the European Union (EU) ought to want is to bring Ukraine into membership, and if that happens it will probably be many, many years from now. Having spent half a decade dealing with the struggling nations of Southern Europe that have been on the brink of default and bankruptcy, it’s hardly a good idea for the EU to absorb Ukraine, which is not only bankrupt but politically in utter turmoil. Perhaps that’s why the United States and the EU have invited Russia to contribute to an economic bailout of Ukraine, which is not only politically astute but economically the right thing to do. Indeed, according to The Wall Street Journal, Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, who spoke with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Sunday, even suggested that the EU and the International Monetary Fund could play a positive role. Said Siluanov:
The fund has the experience of supporting countries in difficult situations…and they have a well-established set of tools to help in such cases. Naturally, the IMF experience could help.
But other Russian politicians have issued far darker comments on the crisis in Ukraine. Earlier, of course, Russia had offered a $15 billion bailout package to Ukraine, but that was suspended last week and it’s unclear how much, if anything, Russia might be willing to chip in to prevent Ukraine from spinning into chaos economically.
It’s important to note that the very moment that power tipped from the Yanukovich government to the opposition, the Interior Ministry, the police and especially the armed forces either withdrew or stayed neutral. According to The New York Times, the protesters and the opposition leaders were in close contact with security officials to prevent an escalation of the crisis. And the armed forces, whose chief wisely refused to take phone calls from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the week before the departure of Yanukovich, didn’t want any part of a defense of the ancien régime.
“Please be assured that the armed forces of Ukraine cannot and will not be involved in any political conflict,” said a statement from the military command. And Ukraine’s chief of staff, Yuriy Ilyin, added: “As an officer I see no other way than to serve the Ukrainian people honestly and assure that I have not and won’t give any criminal orders.”
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro on the battle for Kiev
Here’s my submission for the Understatement of the Week Award: Bill de Blasio’s honeymoon appears to be over.
The mayor’s mid-February skid, involving snowstorm response and his late-night phone call about an arrested pal, deepened last week with the exposé of his motorcade’s disregard for the very traffic laws the mayor wants to strengthen. Then the city comptroller criticized de Blasio’s budget for failing to account for the likely cost of labor settlements. Desperate for good news, the administration late last week trumpeted a deal that improved Long Island College Hospital’s odds for survival—but even that victory is thick with uncertainty.
Over the weekend, the New York Post caught the mayor—egads—jaywalking! And the Daily News gave a platform to former de Blasio spokeswoman Lis Smith, until recently the subject of tabloid scorn for her romance with Eliot Spitzer, who criticized de Blasio’s handling of the politics around pre-K funding.
Next thing we know, a “Draft Christine Quinn” movement will begin with a series of small neighborhood vigils and morph into an occupation of the High-Line Park—which is really just like Kiev’s Independence Square, but with better plantings.
No, it’s not that bad yet. But it does seem like a long time since de Blasio was orchestrating the election of an ally as Council speaker, pushing though a paid sick-leave expansion with minimal business-sector opposition, brushing past the kerfuffle over his secret speech to AIPAC and forcing Andrew Cuomo to counter-punch on the UPK plan. That was way back in… January.
Some of the criticism of de Blasio has been unfair. Jaywalking? Lis Smith? Come now. And some of it has been right on target: why a man who has known since mid-September that he was very, very likely—if not certain—to be the next mayor still hasn’t filled out his roster of commissioners is simply mind-boggling.
But fairness is beside the point. Caesar’s wife could complain all she wanted about having to be beyond suspicion, but it didn’t change the fact that she had to be beyond suspicion. De Blasio’s totally accurate, totally acidic criticism of nearly everything the previous mayor did has created a very high standard to which he’s going to be held. That’s just the way it is.
The real question is, what does a bad month mean? The answer: way less than everything, but way more than nothing.
Two months does not a mayoralty make. Mike Bloomberg had a pretty rocky first year and managed to cruise to re-election. But the former mayor was aided by friends and finances de Blasio will never garner. And it doesn’t take long for a media storyline to go from improv to script. So there are real risks to the de Blasio agenda, because so much of it depends on the notion that he has the power to make sweeping change.
De Blasio has often talked about political capital, and he came into office with a lot of it. But no one has an endless supply. And once people get the idea that you’re running out, even the political capital you have buys less. Our mayor’s ability to fulfill his progressive agenda depends on far more than his statutory powers. He needs other people with power to follow his lead.
The bad press, obviously, erodes that capital. And it obscures the real reforms de Blasio has made: moving to end the stop-and-frisk litigation, stopping the stupid practice of charging NYCHA for police services, removing children from two disastrous homeless shelters and more. These moves aren’t universally popular (the police union, for one, hates the move on the stop-and-frisk litigation) but they put the focus on policy and change, and not on de Blasio’s driver’s lead foot.
Maybe the way for de Blasio to shift the tune, rather than running away from questions, is to keep putting out new policies. Forget about the inevitable charge that you’re trying to do too much. One thing I learned during my brief and unsuccessful boxing career is that you can’t defend yourself by backing up. The only way not to get pummeled is to keep punching.
(OK, so my boxing career consisted of one sad fight, which I lost. But at least I’m still pretty.)
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on de Blasio and the snow