This post originally appeared on the Daily Kos. This needs to be fixed.
WASHINGTON — At the height of the Iraq war, the Army routinely fired hundreds of soldiers for having a personality disorder when they were more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war, discharge data suggests. Under pressure from Congress and the public, the Army later acknowledged the problem and drastically cut the number of soldiers given the designation. But advocates for veterans say an unknown number of troops still unfairly bear the stigma of a personality disorder, making them ineligible for military health care and other benefits. "We really have an obligation to go back and make sure troops weren't misdiagnosed," said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist whose nonprofit "Give an Hour" connects troops with volunteer mental health professionals. The Army denies that any soldier was misdiagnosed before 2008, when it drastically cut the number of discharges due to personality disorders and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorders skyrocketed.... The Army attributes the sudden and sharp reduction in personality disorders to its policy change. Yet Army officials deny that soldiers were discharged unfairly, saying they reviewed the paperwork of all deployed soldiers dismissed with a personality disorder between 2001 and 2006. "We did not find evidence that soldiers with PTSD had been inappropriately discharged with personality disorder," wrote Maria Tolleson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Army Medical Command, which oversees the health care of soldiers, in an e-mail. Command officials declined to be interviewed.
Expanding eligibility and making veterans' claims of PTSD much easier was a long overdue and much welcome move from the administration. That needs to include consideration for these men and women, many of whom were very likely deliberately screwed by the Army under the Bush administration. What digby says: "They're vets. They need treatment, give it to them. It won't cost more than one useless airplane to cover them all for the rest of their lives."
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. A couple of weeks ago Jonathon Cohn had a good piece on Republican efforts to make "public employees the new welfare queens."
This is an item about why your local fireman or teacher has such a nice retirement package, why you probably don’t, and the way conservatives are using that contrast to advance their broader economic agenda.... Conservatives say that excessive public employee pensions exemplify the greed of unions (which sought these generous benefits for public employees) and inefficiency of government (which agreed to pay them). If local and state governments are struggling financially, these conservatives say, they should figure out some way to reduce or revoke those promised benefits, rather than come to Washington and beg for help from the taxpayers.... While raw statistics show that public employees get more compensation than private employees doing comparable work, research that adjusts for variables like education has suggested otherwise. Earlier this year, a study with such adjustments by economists Keith Bender and John Heywood concluded that compensation for local and state workers was, on average, 6.8 to 7.4 percent lower than compensation for comparable private sector workers. Also, as Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, many public employees don’t get Social Security. Overall,  he says, “most public sector pensions do not provide retirees with an  especially high standard of living.” Exceptions to this rule frequently include firefighters and police,  particularly in New York. Then again,  they risk their lives to protect the rest of us from lethal threats, which is more than you can say for CEOs  like the former telecom executive who in 2007 retired with a $159 million benefit package.
This is just one aspect of the Republican war against government--it's a war against the middle class jobs that government creates, as if the dollars that public employees contribute to the economy, including the payroll taxes they pay along with everyone else, aren't equivalent to private sector dollars. Taken to the extreme by--who else, Michele Bachman, Sharron Angle, and now Steve King that fight encompasses state aid, which they call money laundering.
It's also worth noting that this meme is of a piece with a campaign on the right to demonize public employees, and to get Americans to scapegoat them for their economic problems. The other day, Rush Limbaugh denounced public employees as "leftist" and "socialist," railing: "They want you to pay more taxes so they can continue in their freeloader gigs." The larger trend here is that the likes of Bachmann and Angle -- willingly feeding the Tea Party base's most fevered hallucinations on a daily basis -- now routinely hint that everything Dems do must of necessity be nefarious, even vaguely criminal. Public employees, needless to say, are willing pawns in the Dems' criminal enterprise.
Which makes teaching your kids, policing the streets, putting out house fires "money-laundering." Bachman and Angle and King, might be taking it to 11 on the crazy meter, but it's really just an extension of standard GOP fare. Boehner might call public employees "special interests" instead of "freeloaders" but it's not a great leap between the two concepts. And it's just more of their war against the middle class.
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. Elena Kagan's nomination to be associate justice of the Supreme Court was just approved by the full Senate, in a 63 to 37 vote. The Senators sat in their appointed desks on the Senate floor, Rising to deliver their votes, in a more formal and stately process than is generally seen in that body. There were few surprises in the voting. Republicans voting yes were Collins, Graham, Gregg, Lugar, and Snowe. Ben Nelson voted no. She was confirmed with a larger margin than Alito, who was confirmed 58 to 42, and Thomas, who was confirmed 52 to 48, but with fewer votes than the remaining justices, a reflection of the heightened and toxic political environment this election year. Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, for one, is enthused by Kagan's appointment, only the fourth woman to be approved for the position.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says the prospect of three women on the Supreme Court is exhilarating, and she intends to stay around and enjoy it. After the death of her husband and her own treatment for cancer, there was speculation that the 77-year-old justice would step down. But she told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she plans to remain on the court for the foreseeable future and still wants to match Justice Louis Brandeis, who retired at age 82.
This post originally appeared on Daily Kos. The Senate devoted Tuesday to statements on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, ending with a bit of a threat from Reid. Reid came to floor last evening, and began to file cloture on the confirmation in order to ensure that the vote happens this week and that Republicans don't derail the process. Senate rules come in to play here. There will be a cloture vote on the Medicaid/Education funding bill tomorrow. If that bill gets the necessary 60 votes to proceed, Reid would not be allowed under Senate rules to file for cloture on another matter--in this case the Kagan confirmation--while the 30 hours for post-cloture debate on the first ticked down. When Sessions and McConnell agreed to work with Reid to ensure that the vote happens in a timely manner, he withdrew the cloture petition. Where's the threat in that? The potential that the vote would be pushed in to Friday or Saturday, when Senators hope to already be the hell out of Dodge. As for the actual confirmation, it didn't get any more interesting today, though Ben Nelson did expand on his "concerns" in an interview with TPM's Brian Beutler.
"[She's] just not been able to give people comfort," Nelson said. "The calls have been running -- there's a constituency not to vote for her. There's not a strong constituency to vote for her." .... In Nebraska, Nelson said, "some have raised concerns about the Second Amendment. Some have raised concerns about her lack of a judicial background or record. While that's not a disqualifier for me, it does make it more difficult to explain how somebody's going to rule from the bench if you don't have a record of how they have been ruling."
Beyond that, few surprises from Republicans. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III spent a great deal of time questioning Kagan's intelligence (“I believe she does not have the gifts and the qualities of mind or temperament that one must have to be a justice,” ahem), and lying about Kagan's tenure as Dean of Harvard Law School and the school's policy toward military recruiters. Jon Kyl just reused his script from the Sotomayor confirmation.
Now, as Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is just as certain to be confirmed, Kyl is apparently just as desperate. In what will likely be his final floor speech on Kagan’s nomination, Kyl once again falsely accused a Supreme Court nominee of lying:
In explaining why I could not vote for now-Justice Sotomayor, I said I thought she was disingenuous with the Judiciary Committee. Obviously reaching such a conclusion precludes support notwithstanding other qualifications for the position. Reluctantly, after analysis of her testimony, weighed with her past writings, statements and actions, I have reached the same conclusion regarding Elena Kagan.
Kyl then proceededd to recite a long list of mythical claims about Kagan, and argue that she must have been lying at her confirmation hearing because her testimony does not square with the right’s mythology. “Exhibit A” of his case against Kagan, for example is that she claims to be in favor of gay rights, but she really has no objections to a anti-gay tenets of “Shariah law.”  “Exhibit B” is that she claims to not be a judicial activist, even though she had the audacity to praise legal legend and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And so forth.
More Republicans announced they would oppose her confirmation, more Democrats said they would support her. With five Republicans committed to supporting her, her confirmation isn't in question.
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. This is just so rich. Boehner has hijacked the House Republican caucus behind his own cause: fighting the "tan tax." Seriously, here's what's on the Republican House Ways and Means site:
Unfortunately, no amount of sunscreen or Aloe will relieve the pain of the Democrats’ impending 10 percent tax on indoor tanning beds,which goes into effect tomorrow, July 1.  This $2.7 billion tax will hit tens of thousands of small businesses and consumers and is just one of the many of the $569,000,000,000 in new health care taxes that violate the President’s promise not to raise taxes on middle-class families.
I would suspect that most middle-class families are more worried about hanging on to their homes and their jobs and taking care of their unemployed family members, who Boehner thinks don't deserve to get the unemployment insurance they paid for while they were working. But priorities are priorities, and now we know definitively that keeping that healthy orange glow is tops for Boehner.