Sunday, June 09, 2013

Report on Congress


Dona:  We are back this Sunday morning with another "Report on Congress."   Last week, there were three hearings our panel reported on -- the topics covered include the IRS, rape and assault in the military, terrorism, spying and more.  Let's start with Monday's hearing.  The House Oversight Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing on the IRS scandal.  Witnesses were IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel and Treasury Inspector General for the IRS J. Russell George.    C.I. reported on it in Monday's "Iraq snapshot,"  Wally in "The IRS hands out money to employees like its candy (Wally)," Ava in "Kaptor should resign and give Kucinich the seat," and Kat in "The menace named Marcy."  Kat, Ava and  C.I. all pointed out anti-choice Marcy Kaptor was the Congressional embarrassment in that hearing.  Kat, tell us about conservative Democrat Marcy Kaptor.

Kat: A real idiot.  She came into the hearing ready to 'prove' that the ongoing IRS scandal of political groups being targeted wasn't all that bad.  To 'prove' it she cherry picked from the Inspector General report, apparently unaware that he'd be present or maybe hoping he wouldn't challenge her.  But every point she made 'showing' how the scandal wasn't that bad imploded on her with IG George correcting her over and over during her first round of questioning.  She was so deluded or dumb she even misunderstood a diagram. That was probably the funniest part.  This was during the first round of questioning and everything she's said about the IG report has been wrong and George has corrected her.  So Marcy Kaptor moves to a diagram and sort of in jest says, after she makes some claims, that this is unless she misunderstood the diagram.  Like, 'Only an idiot could get that wrong, right?'  And George clears his throat with an 'actually' moment and explains what she's missed in the diagram as well.  Ava?

Ava: So then comes round two.  By now, even Marcy Kaptur can grasp she looks like the biggest fool in Congress.  She decides, apparently, 'Screw the IG report!'  She doesn't ask about it, she doesn't reference it, she just offers up a sermon.  The IRS deserves applause for targeting conservative groups, Marcy Kaptor insists.  That's what they're supposed to do!  She is sounding so insane that even Democrats on the panel are looking over at her like, "Is she for real?"

Dona: Ava recommended Kaptor give Kucinich the seat.  Redistricting found the two Ohio Democrats running for the same Congressional seat in 2012.  Kaptor won the primary.  Kucinich is out of Congress.  But I looked and he commented May 28th on this scandal in an appearance on Fox News, link goes to video and he noted that "people don't want this kind of intrusive power used against them for political purposes.  That's why this is not going to go away soon."  And he also stated,  "We as Americans have to close ranks here. Because when it comes to making sure that the power of government will not be used, this shouldn't be a Democrat or Republican issue, a left or a right issue, we all must agree on it."  And, reading over your reporting, Democrats and Republicans in the hearing did agree on that with the exception of Marcy Kaptur.   Wally, you were appalled by the IRS handing out money to its employees.

Wally: Since 2010, the IRS has given out 93 billion dollars in bonuses. This at a time of massive unemployment and supposedly dire financial conditions.  Sarah Hall Ingram, who was over the tax exempt division at the IRS --

Dona: Where the scandal took place.

Wally: Where, from 2010 onward, political groups were targeted for the 'crimes' of using terms like "patriot," "Tea Party," and teaching about the Constitution.  Ingram is now over ObamaCare for the IRS, Lois Lerner is over tax exempt organizations or was before  being placed on administrative leave after taking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to answer Congress' questions last month.  But from 2010, Sarah Hall Ingram received approximately $103,000 in bonuses.  Which is outrageous even before you factor in that her department's performance should have resulted in no bonuses or praise.

Dona: Outrageous.  That was the hearing that took place Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on rape and assault within the ranks.  C.I. reported on it in Tuesday's "Iraq snapshot," Ava in "Saxby Chambliss' gross stupidity," Wally in "Senator Bill Nelson sets the tone," Kat in "Senator Kirsten Gillibrand didn't come to play" and C.I. again in Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot."  Except for the Wednesday snapshot, all of the reports are on the first panel.  The first panel was composed of: Gen Martin Dempsy (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Gen Ray Odierno (Chief of Staff of the Army), Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert (Chief of Naval Operations), Gen James Amos (Commandant of the Marine Corps), Gen Mark Welsh (Chief of Staff of the Air Force), Admiral Robert Papp Jr. (Commandant of the Coast Guard), Lt Gen Dana K. Chipman, JAGC, USA Judge Advocate General of the United States Army,  Vice Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi, JAGC, USN Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy, Lt Gen Richard C. Harding, JAGC, USAF Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force, Maj Gen Vaughn A. Ary, USMC Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Rear Admiral  Frederick J. Kenney, Jr., USCG Judge Advocate General of the United States Coast Guard and Brig Gen Richard C. Gross, USA Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Has there been a larger panel at a hearing you've attended before?

Wally: I would say no.  And that's probably why the hearing was so damn long.

Dona: C.I. addressed that.  Here's some of that, "This hearing went on way too long.  I do understand why it was structured the way it was. (And was honestly thrilled when Chair Carl Levin announced, right before the three hour mark as questioning of the first panel continued, that the panel would not have a second round of questioning.)  Having all the chiefs there on one panel was important.  The second panel was composed of people most likely to work through any legal process within the military with those who've been assaulted or raped and the the third panel were experts on the topic."

Wally: I told her I'd write about Senator Bill Nelson because he's my senator -- one of my two senators -- and because I felt he had an important role in the hearing.  But I wasn't looking forward to writing about it, no.

Kat: I said I was going to write about The Rockford Files or some 70s television show.  I wasn't joking.  I said that as the hearing finally ended.  7 hours and thirty or forty minutes is too damn long for a hearing.  That was insane.  There were too many witnesses.  It should have just been the joint chiefs on the first panel and, as C.I.'s said, take the other two panels and put each one of them on another day.  It was just too much.  It was overwhelming.

Ava: I wouldn't have attended if I'd known it was going to be that long.  I had told my mother that if the hearing ran long, go on with my daughter to this excursion we were going to do as a threesome and I'd catch up.  Fortunately, my mother did leave without me.  Otherwise, they would have been waiting and waiting and waiting.  As it was, I wasn't able to join them.  I couldn't believe it.  Who the hell does an all day hearing?  We do have lives, you know?  As it was, the third panel found most people leaving.  And that wasn't fair to them.  But who in the hell has 8 hours to waste like that?  And you've got to get there early to get a seat.  So we were there ahead of time and it did end up being eight hours in that awful room.  And it was hot in there.  Kat notes in her report on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that she was covering her in part because C.I. had to get up and run to the bathroom and missed her questioning.  It was so hot in there, I felt sick.  I didn't throw up like C.I. but I felt very frustrated and very angry.

Dona: From a media perspective, Ava, it wasn't smart to schedule an 8 hour hearing.

Ava: No, it was not.  I left the hearing wanting to scream.  C.I. stopped and spoke to a few of the veterans -- and the only ones who stayed for the full hearing were pretty much the veterans -- and I usually try to do that too, we all do, but only C.I. did.  Speaking for me, I just wanted to get out of that hearing room.  The second panel was ignored by the press except for the prepared statements -- written statements submitted ahead of time and most reports also ignored the third panel except for the written statements.  It was stupidity to schedule a hearing like that.  It ended 30 minutes -- C.I., what's the ABC station serving the area?


Ava: Thank you.  So it ends 20 minutes before six p.m.  WJLA has already started local news.  It's about 5:40 or so when the hearing ends.  At 6:30 pm, ABC World News will kick off.  And that's really not enough time to give the media.  It's just outrageous and it was a very poor reflection on Committee Chair Carl Levin.

Dona: C.I.?

C.I.: In 2008, for three days, then-General David Petraeus and then-Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified to Congress.  Over and over.  And we were at those hearings, all four of us, and none of those hearings lasted eight hours.  The biggest problems, the real reason it went over, was because it wasn't a hearing about the issues.  It was largely a hearing about how Senator Kirsten Gillibrand must be wrong.  Carl Levin and many others wasted time on that over and over.  I'm not saying she's wrong, by the way, I agree with her.  But Levin and many others wanted to turn the hearing into that.  And that was on the first panel, the second panel and the third.  Kat?

Kat:  I have never seen that before in any hearing we have attended.  I have strong praise for Gillibrand because she was not just standing up to a number of Republicans on the Committee, she was also having to stand up to the military brass and to members of her own party on the Committee including the Chair.

Dona: What is she proposing?

Kat: "S. 967 the Military Justice Improvement Act, a critical bill that professionalizes the military justice system by ensuring that trained, professional, impartial prosecutors control the keys to the courthouse for felony- level crimes while still allowing commanders to maintain judicial authority over crimes that are unique to the military and requiring more expeditious and localized justice to ensure good order and discipline."  Like C.I., I'm quoting from the Service Women's Action Network summary of the bill.  They are backing that bill.

Dona: So all she's doing is asking that felony crimes be decided by prosecutors and not by military commanders.

Kat: Right, to hear Levin and Senator James Inahofe and so many others, this will destroy the military.  It will end all order.  Do you believe that?  I don't.  I'm like C.I., this really wasn't an issue for the first half of the 20th century and commanders really just crafted this power in the second half -- because rape wasn't a talked about issue in an all male military -- and they're acting like this is a power they were given and have had.  Now the reality is that they've abused this power.  They have used it to protect friends.

Dona: There's the infamous case of the commander who overturned the assault conviction of a friend last February.  And that's just most recently.  Wally, the hostility towards Gillibrand?

Wally: It was there.  And I would argue that's why she was treated rudely by the generals.  I'd argue the women were all treated poorly and I would blame Carl Levin for that.  Maybe he needs to step down?  He created a men versus women split, enforced it, promoted it.  And the rudeness that was directed at the women by the first panel and by the members of the Committee went on until Senator Bill Nelson did his questioning.  He was loud and he spoke slow.  He's not a rapid talker most of the time.  But he was louder than usual and slower than usual.  And a lot of the nonsense stopped immediately.  You could feel a level of recognition register with the panel of the fact that they were before Congress and they immediately got more respectful.

Dona: You pointed out that Senator Kay Hagan went after Nelson and not only were they respectful but Gen Ray Odierno made a point of thanking her for her question.

Wally: Right.  There was so much disrespect on the Committee.  From the top, from Levin.  And, sadly, from Inahofe.  I say "sadly" because the hearing wouldn't have been as out of control at the start if the Republicans didn't have term limits on Committees.  Term limits is why Senator John McCain wasn't Ranking Member.  And McCain's on the Committee still and he was much more respectful than Inhofe or Carl Levin.  If I were a woman on the Senate, I'd be registering a complaint.

Ava: But to who?  There are 100 senators -- counting the one New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just appointed.  Only 20 are women.  That's a fifth.  They are not in leadership and you could argue that Harry Reid being Senate Majority Leader goes a long way towards endorsing disrespect for women.  If I were on the Senate, I'd be very depressed.  And I think Wally is exactly right.  I think Senator Nelson saw just how out of control the hearing was becoming and just how much disrespect was being shown to senators on the panel and I think he used his volume and speaking pace intentionally to snap the panel to attention.

C.I.: In a way, the way the women on the Committee were treated was perfect because it demonstrated the problem that women in the military have.  There are peers they serve with like a Bill Nelson who take the issue seriously but there are others that they serve with who just don't have a clue.

Dona: Saxby Chambliss.  Ava, you wrote about that.

Ava: He thinks rape is about teenage lust.  He's that stupid.  He thinks rape is just sex.  And I think Levin thinks that on some level and that's why he refuses to take this issue seriously.

Dona: The generals didn't take it seriously?

Kat: C.I. pointed out that Gen John Amos called it a crime as early as his opening statements and continued to do so in the hearing.  He was sometimes parroted by others on the panel and sometimes wasn't.  Amos is the only one who spoke with any conviction on the matter as far as I'm concerned.

Dona: What was the argument from the chiefs?

C.I.: 'Give us time and we will handle it.'

Dona: But they've had time.

Ava: Exactly.

Dona: And it's not handled.  So they argue they need more time.  From C.I.'s report, I'm going to quote Senator Claire McCaskill:

I have spent -- as many of you know, hours and hours with your prosecutors over the last several months, I've had long conversations with several of you at the table including those who are heading up our various branches.  I want to start with the fact that I think part of the problem here is you all mushed together two separate issues in ways that are not helpful to successful prosecution.   There are two problems.  One is you have sexual predators who are committing crimes.  Two, you have work to do on the issue of a respectful and healthy work environment.  These are not the same issues.  And with all due respect, General Odierno, we can prosecute our way out of the first issue.   We can prosecute our way out of the problem of sexual predators -- who are not committing crimes of lust.  My years of experience in this area tell me they are committing crimes of  domination and violence.  This isn't about sex, this is about assault, domination and violence.  And as long as those two get mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be at getting after the most insidious part of this which is the predators in your ranks that are sullying the great name of our American military.  I-I want to start with, I think the way you all are reporting has this backwards because you're mushing them together in the reporting.  Unwanted sexual contact is everything from somebody looking at you sideways to someone pushing you up against the wall and brutally raping you. You've got to, in your surveys, delineate the two problems because, until you do, we will have no idea whether you're getting your hands around this.  We need to know how many women and men are being raped and sexually assaulted on an annual basis and we have no idea right now.   Because all we know is we've had unwanted sexual contact: 36,000.  Well that doesn't tell us whether it's an unhealthy work environment or whether or not you've got criminals.  And you've got to change that reporting.  Success is going to look like this: More reports of rape, sodomy and assault and less incidents of rape, sodomy and assault. So everybody needs to be prepared here.  If we do a good job, that number of 3,000 the Chairman referenced, three-thousand-and-something, that's going to go up if we're doing well but overall the incidents are going to be going down.  But we have no way of being able to demonstrate that with the way you're reporting now.  

Dona (Con't): To me, that says, "The brass doesn't get it."  They're lumping it all together.  Rape and a wink or an inappropriate joke, it's all the same.  And Kat's report notes that Senator Gillibrand made a similar remark about this lumping together.  If they can't even grasp the difference enough to record the statistic correctly, enough to categorize, how can they grasp anything else?  Reading your reports, honestly, I was depressed.  The military doesn't seem to get it and a number of senators -- Levin among them -- seem to want to look the other way.

Kat: And that might be part of the reason for the reaction to the length of the meeting.  We've had this meeting over and over in Congress.  And now we had it again and it was obvious how nothing had changed and instead of Congress providing oversight on that we saw the Committee Chair and Ranking Member making excuses and acting like this was all no big deal -- 'Sure, take more time to fix it, it's not like this is an important issue.'

Dona: In your reporting on the issue, unless you're quoting someone, you're all saying "rape and assault" and not "rape and sexual assault."  There were a few e-mails about that.

Ava: Let me grab that.  Rape isn't sex.  You've already quoted Claire McCaskill on that so I will just add that if Saxby Chambliss could grasp the difference, he wouldn't be seeing rape as horny teenagers going wild.   But as long as we continue to use terms like "sex assault" and "sex crime," we are signaling to some that it is about sex.  Rape and assault covers what's going on.  None of us think that 2014's going to roll around and we'll all be saying "rape and assault" but we are hoping that in 20 years, it will be the norm.  We're doing our part to get there.

Wally: And it goes to the crime issue from before.  These are crimes.  But only Gen John Amos was able to speak to that with any conviction.  I also think that they're seeing -- people like Levin and some of the generals -- rape as 'powerful sex' and 'warrior sex' and they're against the efforts being pushed by a number of female senators on this issue.

Dona: I really think you're right, Wally.  The day after your reports on the first panel ran, my mother called me to talk about the hearing -- she caught it on CSPAN and read your reports -- and she said Carl Levin acted as if he thought they were trying to turn the military "into choirboys.  He doesn't get that these are crimes."

Ava: Dumb question, I'm sure, but your mother watched all the hearing on CSPAN?

Dona: No.  I don't know if they aired it all.  She watched the first panel.  It was airing after C.I.'s snapshot went up -- CSPAN was repeating the first panel.  So she read C.I.'s report, caught the first panel and then read your report and Kat and Wally's. Okay, we've got a third hearing to cover.  Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Justice Dept Thursday.  C.I. reported on it in Thursday's  "Iraq snapshot" and in "Yet another reason to set Lynne Stewart free," Ava in "Known terrorists can fly on US commercial planes," Wally in "50 million reasons to reduce the federal prison population," Kat in "Richard Shelby loves Caprice" and C.I. again in Friday's "Iraq snapshot."  Ava, let me start with you.  What a topic.

Ava: Wasn't it?  And think about it in terms of what we learned this week.  We're all being spied upon, all of our phone records, our computer records, we're being spied on by the US government.  But the same US government allows known terrorists to fly on commercial planes.  Suspected ones as well.  But known terrorists who've been convicted or confessed are allowed to ride on commercial flights.

Dona: Explain it.

Ava: The government has been putting terrorists into the witness relocation program.  They do not then cross-reference -- meaning the terrorist's original name is on the no-fly list but the new name they get in witness relocation doesn't go on it.  So they're not on the no-fly list.  They can fly on their own at any time.  What about when US Marshals schedule flights for them -- say for official government buisness?  Two Marshals escort them to the airplane they're taking off from.  That's it. They don't ride on the plane and they don't advise any air marshall on the plane, 'Hey, you've got a terrorist on the flight.'  When the plane lands, 2 Marshals will meet the terrorist at the airport.

Dona: That blows my mind.  Okay, Wally, you emphasized something else we learned in that hearing.  What are the fifty million reasons to reduce the federal prison population?

Wally: Dollars.  We would save 50 million dollars just be sending 3% of the foreign nationals in our prisons back to their home countries.  Just three percent.

Dona: And I can hear someone arguing that the problem is they're killers or arsonists or something like that.

Wally: Well, the 3% figure would give the power to be very selective about who to send home.  Also most of the violations these days are not -- for foreign nationals in federal prisons -- are not for violent crimes.

C.I.: Jumping in to note that testifying at the hearing was Attorney General Eric Holder and Inspector General Michael Horowitz.  Wally's referring to the findings in the IG's report and the IG's testimony.

Dona: Thank you for that.  And what's the most common offense for foreign nationals in federal prisons?

C.I.:  Horowitz testified that immigration was now the main charge, then drugs, then fraud, then firearm crimes.

Dona: And he spoke of compassionate release and the need for it.  And yet, Kat, Senator Richard Shelby had only one focus.  What was it?

Kat: To Shelby, all that mattered was industrial espionage.  Guess he must have a lot of industries voting for him and no people.  He couldn't relate to the people but he was outraged on behalf of industries.

Dona: I would love to continue this but we're already over time.  Let me note that this is a rush transcript.

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