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Defense Department

Working on Ebola in Galveston

Given what’s been going on lately I thought this would be of interest.

As the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history sweeps across West Africa, hope for a cure is centering on scientists thousands of miles away at the Galveston National Laboratory, where researchers are working on three of the most promising potential cures.

The National Lab, on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has been awarded $6 million from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense to develop cures for Ebola and the equally deadly Marburg virus, UTMB said this week.

The Ebola virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in West Africa and killed more than 700 is a new strain, which could complicate efforts to develop a cure, said Scott Weaver, the National Lab’s scientific director.

The outbreak is the longest-lasting and most widespread Ebola outbreak ever recorded, Weaver said, and cases are being reported for the first time in highly populated cities.

The National Laboratory is the only academic lab in the country to be rated Level 4, meaning it is equipped to research the deadliest biological agents known because of the sophisticated safeguards in place. Weaver said scientists at the National Laboratory have been working with the Ebola virus for 10 years, making them a natural choice to pursue the cures.

[…]

Even if an infected person arrives in the U.S., there is little chance that Ebola could get a foothold here, said T.G. Ksiazek, a pathology professor at UTMB. Ebola can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids and is easily controlled with modern medical techniques, said Ksiazek, who will leave for Africa this month to assist in efforts to halt the spread of Ebola.

“We do occasionally have diseases like this imported into the U.S. and we fare well,” he said.

Good to know. I don’t even want to think about the panic and overreaction that would occur here if there ever was such an outbreak, even though there’s not that much danger of actually catching it. This is one of those times when being – how shall I put this? – less scientifically literate that we might be as a society would be a major negative. The politics of ignorance and fearmongering that we already have are quite enough, thanks.

One more thing:

The bulk of the research on Ebola is being done in the U.S. because the federal government has been willing to fund research into cures of what are known as “emerging diseases,” such as the Ebola and West Nile viruses. Private companies are reluctant to invest the millions – or hundreds of millions – of dollars needed to develop a cure for a disease like Ebola because there is little chance of making a profit.

“There is really no market for this in a typical sense,” Weaver said. “There is no company that thinks they can market this in West Africa for a profit.”

Sarah Kliff explored that question in more detail a few days ago. Keep that in your back pocket the next time a debate about the role of government comes up in your vicinity. I wish the scientists working on this problem and others like it all the success in the world.

Same sex couples win the right to register for benefits in the Texas National Guard

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

RedEquality

The Texas National Guard said late Tuesday it will immediately let same-sex couples register for benefits, ending a highly publicized standoff with the Pentagon.

Five Texas Guard facilities, including one in Houston, that had been off limits for same-sex couples seeking benefits will begin to enroll same-sex dependent spouses in benefits programs.

“We’re going to go back to business as usual,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a Texas Guard spokeswoman. “It will be full service.”

The decision means same-sex couples in the Guard can now obtain services ranging from access to base commissaries to medical care and housing allowances – all benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.

[…]

The Defense Department said it would issue benefits to same-sex spouses of the military as well as civilian workers after the Supreme Court ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Perry defied the Pentagon, saying Texas defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel made it clear Oct. 31 that the Defense Department expected all 54 guard organizations to comply.

Texas cited its state constitution and Family Code in refusing Hagel’s demands. It told same-sex couples to file their paperwork at more than 20 active-duty installations and refused to let them to apply for benefits at guard facilities in Abilene, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley.

Those facilities will handle the paperwork, including marriages certificates, starting Wednesday, said MacGregor.

The governor, who has led challenges to Washington over redistricting, abortion and its new voter ID law, insisted the state wouldn’t give in, and the phrasing of a news release Tuesday on the guard’s website didn’t suggest that Texas backed down.

“The Department of Defense has approved a new procedure for enrolling National Guard members and their dependents in benefits programs,” it stated. “The new procedure essentially recognizes the conflict between the Texas Constitution and DOD policy mandating the enrollment of same-gender dependent spouses in benefits programs.”

About damn time. It’s beyond shameful that this was even in question. It’s still somewhat unclear to me what led to this change – I’ve searched the Texas Military Forces and Texas Army National Guard webpages but can’t find the news release cited in the story. Either Rick Perry backed down, in which case I am not too proud to say that I would like to gloat about that, or Texas Military Forces decided on their own that they answered to the federal government ahead of the state government, in which case it seems to me that the potential for conflict has not been resolved.

No attorney general’s opinion has been issued on the matter, but the [Washington, D.C.-based American Military Partner Association] told [AG Greg] Abbott in a letter that Texas and other noncompliant states were undermining force readiness, and even precluding same-sex couples from involvement with Family Readiness Groups that are a link to troops in the war zone.

“This is undoubtedly damaging to morale, good order and discipline,” the group said.

Here’s the American Military Partner Association’s website. Abbott asked them for their view on this. It may be the case that he concluded the state’s position was a loser and that this helped tilt the scales. If that’s the case then kudos to him, but it doesn’t change my opinion that Wendy Davis needs to make an issue out of this. She can quite reasonably point out that she would not pick this kind of stupid and harmful fight as Governor but will instead do the right thing from the beginning. She ought to be running against Rick Perry as much as she is against Greg Abbott anyway. The fact that the state appears to have backed down is a point in her favor, if she would just claim it. Texas Leftist and Texpatriate have more.

Wendy Davis needs to push back on Texas’ refusal to comply with the law on military same-sex benefits

The sooner the better. This is a no-brainer, and a win all around.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Texas Gov. Rick Perry stood his ground [last] Friday in a showdown with the Pentagon over processing benefits for same-sex couples at National Guard offices, possibly setting the stage for yet another court battle with the federal government.

A spokesman for the governor insisted that the Texas National Guard would not process marriage certificates for same-sex couples, despite an order this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to do so.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, met Friday via teleconference with the leaders of nine state Guard organizations that have refused to process paperwork for same-sex benefits. Officials in Texas and Washington weren’t disclosing their next moves, but neither side appeared to budge.

“I guess I couldn’t be surprised that someone from the Obama administration is trying to force their will onto the states and bypass the state’s constitutional authority to govern itself,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said, adding the governor had “every intent to uphold the Texas Constitution and state law.”

[…]

The Texas Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, was among leaders from the nine states to talk with Grass. But Army Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Guard, said she did not know the outcome of their conference.

She stressed that no one in the 22,000-strong organization had been denied benefits. However, Guard personnel on five state-operated facilities are barred from uploading a copy of the same-sex marriage certificate into a computer database, a key step required for issuing benefits as health care or housing allowances. The Texas Family Code forbids the acceptance of same-sex marriage certificates on state facilities.

Let’s go over the reasons why Wendy Davis needs to make an issue of this, shall we?

1. First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. That’s not always good politics, though in this case I believe it clearly is. But doing the right thing, and fighting for the right thing, is the way to build trust with your base supporters for those times when you need to convince them that something they’re not so crazy about is also the right thing to do.

2. Perry’s typical macho preening on this tries to cast the issue as another state-versus-federal argument, but it very conspicuously omits any mention of the active duty military members and their families that are directly affected by it. Making this be about the military personnel and their families is Politics 101. Rick Perry is saying that the state of Texas has the right to deny active duty military members access to federal benefits that they have earned. Do you think he wants to talk about it in those terms? We can’t let him go on as if it were just another abstract debate about federalism. He’s hurting soldiers, he’s disrespecting the people that we’ve tasked with protecting our freedoms. If we let him get away with that, we deserve to lose. The one person in Texas that can change the dynamic of this conversation in a way that the media and other politicians will be forced to notice, is Wendy Davis.

3. Of course, Wendy Davis is running against Greg Abbott, not Rick Perry. But taking on this fight puts Abbott in a tight spot. For one thing, he doesn’t want to make this about actual people – soldiers and their families – any more than Perry does. But he also can’t let himself be seen as soft on gay rights or fighting against the federal government, since he’s built most of his identity on that and he got burned by siding with the Obama Justice Department against the American Airlines merger. So that puts him in the position of having to defend the denial of benefits to soldiers, which I know is going to make a lot of nominal Republicans – likely a lot of Republican women, since this fight will adversely affect children, too – uncomfortable. And let’s not forget, Abbott the incumbent Attorney General still has to offer an opinion on this. Anything that Abbott the candidate for Governor has to say will cast doubt on that opinion he has to render.

4. It shifts the conversation away from abortion. That’s turf Davis will need and want to defend, but this is a chance to go on the offensive. it will also reinforce the idea that Davis has been a fighter on a range of subjects and that she isn’t afraid to take it to the Republicans.

5. As Daily Kos and Americablog point out, while the National Guard is generally considered part of the state, it gets the vast majority of its funding from the federal government. Are Rick Perry and Greg Abbott willing to forego that in the name of maintaining state control?

6. On a broader and more philosophical note, it also pushes back on the deeply cynical “states rights” and “federal overreach” argument that Perry and Abbott and the rest of them love to make. It’s a reminder that the federal government is there to ensure that people in all 50 states have the same rights and freedoms.

7. Have I mentioned that this is just 100% the right thing to do? I can’t stress that enough.

Now obviously it can’t be just Wendy Davis making this argument. Every Democrat in the state needs to be making it as well. But as noted in point #2, Wendy Davis is the only Democrat that’s guaranteed to be noticed by the press when she makes it. She’s the leader of the party, she’s the one in the spotlight, she’s where this has to start. We need you on this, Wendy.

The states that are making life harder for their National Guard members

It’s not just Texas.

RedEquality

While a majority of states ban same-sex marriages, most are not fighting the new policy. But Pentagon officials say that in addition to Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia have balked. Each has cited a conflict with state laws that do not recognize same-sex marriages. (A West Virginia official said, however, that the state intended to follow the directive.) While the president has the power to call National Guard units into federal service — and nearly all Guard funding comes from the federal government — the states say the units are state agencies that must abide by state laws.

Requiring same-sex Guard spouses to go to federally owned bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said last week.

But the six states are violating federal law, Mr. Hagel told an audience recently. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” he said. Mr. Hagel has demanded full compliance, but Pentagon officials have not said what steps they would take with states that do not fall in line.

Though the government does not keep official figures on same-sex marriages in the military, the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay service members, estimates that the number could be 1,000 or more of the nearly half-million National Guard members nationwide, said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the group.

The military grants a range of significant benefits to the spouses of active-duty guardsmen, including the right to enroll in the military’s health insurance program and to obtain a higher monthly housing allowance. Spouse IDs allow unescorted access to bases with their lower-priced commissaries.

Officials in the six states say they are not preventing same-sex spouses from getting benefits, because those couples can register and receive IDs through federal bases. But those officials conceded that many couples would have to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Advocates for gay service members, though, fear that some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.

Moreover, gay spouses say that in an age that saw the scrapping of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, it is discriminatory — and humiliating — to have to jump through extra hoops to receive benefits.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m still waiting for the threatened lawsuit to be filed. Note that even among the states that banned same-sex marriage, Texas and these others are a minority. There’s no public policy purpose being served here, just disrespect for people who have done nothing to deserve it. One way or another, these states need to be made to do the right thing and do right by their National Guard members.

Hagel tells Texas National Guard to obey the law

Good.

RedEquality

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel late Thursday rebuked Texas and eight other states whose National Guard organizations have refused to process federal benefits given to same-sex couples.

In a speech before the Anti-Defamation League in New York, Hagel revealed that he had ordered the head of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, “to take immediate action to remedy this situation.”

Hagel said commanders “will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and (Pentagon) policy” as 45 other states and jurisdictions now do.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said in a prepared text of his remarks provided by the Pentagon.

“This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish,” he continued. “At my direction, (Grass) will meet with the adjutants general from the states where these ID cards are being denied.”

See here for the background. Texas Military Forces has asked the Attorney General for an opinion on this, which is still pending, and Lambda Legal threatened a lawsuit if they did not comply. As far as I can tell, despite Lambda Legal giving Texas Military Forces ten days to respond to them, no further action has been taken.

The Texas National Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, said in an Aug. 30 policy memo his organization’s Camp Mabry headquarters in Austin and other facilities around the state could not enroll same-sex families “until we receive clarification.”

Neither he nor others at Camp Mabry could be reached Thursday night. Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the Guard is a state agency and “as such is obligated to adhere to the Texas Constitution and the laws of this state, which clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman.”

[…]

It wasn’t clear if Hagel’s action would force the Guard to immediately process same-sex couples’ benefits, but his action was hailed by Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Eric Alva, a local gay-rights activist.

“Guard members and their families serve this country every day, and it is unacceptable that any state would make it unreasonably difficult for these heroes to access the benefits they are entitled to,” Griffin said.

“If the states had it their way, they would be the ones who still say gay individuals are not allowed to serve in the National Guard,” said Alva, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who was the first American GI wounded in the Iraq invasion. “So I think it’s one last defense of the states to try to prevent same-sex couples from getting any benefits, and it’s going to fall. They’re going to lose.”

You would think so, but they won’t go quietly and they won’t go quickly. One way or another this will wind up in court. We ought to tell the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to go ahead and start writing its opinion striking down any injunctions or orders against the state, since we know that’s what they’ll eventually do anyway. May as well save some time and cut right to the chase. BOR has more.

Lambda Legal challenges Texas Military Forces on benefits

Good.

An LGBT legal group has given the Texas National Guard 10 days to respond to its request that it begin enrolling same-sex spouses of service members into the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) at its facilities. DEERS is the system used to process military benefits, including providing service members and their families with the military ID card that gives them access to military facilities and other services.

The move likely is the final step before the legal group, Lambda Legal, would go to court seeking to force the Texas National Guard to end the differential treatment.

[…]

On Friday, however, Lambda Legal — an LGBT legal advocacy group — sent a letter to Major General John F. Nichols, the man responsible for running the Texas National Guard, letting Nichols know the group is representing Alicia Butler, the wife of 1st Lt. Judith Chedville — a member of the Army National Guard — and asking that the Texas Military Forces reconsider the decision not to process Butler’s request to be entered into the DEERS system.

Specifically, the lawyer, Paul D. Castillo, wrote:

The Texas Military Forces apparently takes the position that registering the same-sex spouse of a service member in the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (“DEERS”) and issuing a spousal ID, in fulfillment of the federal government’s legal obligation to provide federal spousal and family benefits to same-sex spouses, somehow would violate provisions of the Texas Constitution and Statutes that purport to deny State recognition to the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. This position is particularly dubious given that the “Federal Government provides virtually all of the funding, the material, and the leadership for the state Guard units” … including, specifically, DEERS and federal benefit administration for commissioned officers located in Texas.

Citing the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, he noted, “When voluntarily implementing federally-funded benefits programs on behalf of the U.S. Army National Guard, Texas may not violate the federal civil rights of eligible spouses of military personnel. The discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay spouses of service members, including those in the Army National Guard in Texas, is illegal.”

See here and here for the background. Lambda Legal’s press release is here, and I think this sums it all up:

“This is just so silly and demeaning,” Butler said. “What they’re saying in effect is, ‘well, we don’t want to give you these benefits, but we have to, so we’re going to make it as inconvenient as possible.’ It’s incredibly petty, and does impose a real hardship that other couples don’t have to bear.”

“This stigmatizing and punitive policy conflicts with DoD policy to treat all military spouses equally and also seems to contradict the governing philosophy of Texas Military Forces to act in the best interests of all service members and families,” Castillo added. “We urge General Nichols to instruct his staff to stop this discriminatory behavior and enroll all eligible spouses of service members for federal benefits.”

Given that nearly every other state, including quite a few that also ban gay marriage, have complied with this directive, it’s hard to see how this could be legal. But then TXMF is taking its cues from Greg Abbott and his see-no-gays strategy, so it’s not exactly a surprise. I’m kind of hoping Lambda has to take TXMF to court – I figure every time Abbott loses a case, an angel gets his wings. But hey, as long as the good guys win in the end, I’ll be happy. See the full letter from Lambda Legal for more.

Texas Military Forces asks for Abbott’s opinion on same-sex benefits

Like we don’t know what he’s going to say.

Still not Greg Abbott

Here’s the dilemma: The Department of Defense, based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, has ordered certain benefits be extended to same-sex, legally married couples in the military.

But the Texas Military Forces — aka TXFM and the Texas national guard — is a state agency and the Texas Constitution has a provision that same-sex marriages cannot be recognized.

So the adjutant general’s office has asked the attorney general to help sort out whether this is a military chain-of-command order, or is a state office obligated to follow Texas law?

“Texas law specifically prohibits a state agency or political subdivision from recognizing or validating a same-sex marriage,” the request for a legal opinion states. But the national guard personnel are under state control only until they are called up for active duty, and then they answer to the federal government.

“What action, if any, can the TXMF take in order to fulfill the DoD policy of extending spousal and dependant benefits to same-sex spouses without violating the Texas Constitution or Texas state law?” the request for opinion asks.

I’m trying to think of some analogous questions to asking Greg Abbott if the state of Texas needs to follow federal directives on same-sex benefits for military personnel. “Should I rob this bank? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Willie Sutton for his opinion.”

Or how about “Should I punch this guy in the face? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Mark Trail for his opinion.”

Maybe “Should I do unspeakable things to this foam finger? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Miley Cyrus for her opinion.”

Basically, the difference between those examples and asking Greg Abbott if you have to comply with an order to treat same-sex couples equally is how long you have to wait to get the answer you know you’re going to get. If you’re one of the people that stands to be adversely affected by Abbott’s opinion, the Atlantic Wire has a map pointing out the federal military bases in Texas, so at least you’ll know how far you’ll have to travel to claim the benefits that are rightfully and legally yours. A group of Texas legislators – all Democrats, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear – sent a letter to TXMF urging them to forget about asking Abbott for his predictable opinion and just go ahead and follow the federal directive already. The Trib has more.

Military spending is government spending

President Obama recently announced a change in direction for US military strategy in the wake of exiting Iraq, one that will involve some reductions in spending. Much pearl clutching and chin stroking followed.

But ongoing tinkering with the nation’s defense blueprint means many Texans could feel the pinch from a planned reduction of at least 100,000 ground combat troops. And projected Pentagon spending cuts of at least $489 billion over the next decade could force layoffs at major defense contractors in Texas, such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Boeing Co.

With the nation’s $15 trillion debt rivaling annual U.S. economic output, “this country is facing a crisis that it has to address,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told roughly 500 soldiers in a visit to Fort Bliss on Thursday. “We have got to put everything on the table.”

[…]

Stephen Fuller, an economic modeling expert at George Mason University, estimated that Obama’s planned defense reductions of $1 trillion could claim as many as 1 million jobs nationwide – with 91,600 of those losses coming in Texas.

“Our analysis reveals bleak outcomes for both the defense industry and the economy as a whole if $1 trillion is cut from defense,” Fuller said.

Yes, it’s true: When government spends less money on government programs like the military, it’s a drag on the economy. I marvel at how some people only make this connection when the government spending is on government programs that they happen to approve of. For what it’s worth, this new direction isn’t really a cut military spending, but a reduction in the rate of increase in military spending. The second derivative is now negative, in other words. The curve still points upward, however. Be that as it may, I’d be happy to see the economic impact of these reductions mitigated by spending that money on other priorities, like infrastructure. I mean, if we agree that there’s a correlation between government spending and job creation, we should proceed on to the next logical step. Right?