Friday Reads: SCOTUS Plays Doctor (and God)

Good Morning!

retro_vintage_1950s_kids_playing_doctor_handmade_cross-stitch_pattern_35b72268I’ve got all kinds of personal reasons to hope that  when the Supreme Court decides King v. Burwell next month that one just one Republican-appointed justice will consider the complaint trivial and it will be dismissed.  That’s because I will be among the millions of people that will lose their health care.   Jonathan Chait-writing for New York Magazine--wonders if that’s really what Republicans want in the year running up to a Presidential election.

Next month, the Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell. If all five Republican appointees support the plaintiffs (there’s no chance any of the Democrat-appointed justices will take the lawsuit seriously), some 7 million Americans will quickly lose their insurance. The prospect that this will occur has induced a wave of panic — not among the customers at risk of losing their insurance, who seem largely unaware, nor even among Obamacare’s Democratic supporters, but among Republicans. The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage. It is dawning on the Grand Old Party that snatching health insurance away from millions of helpless victims is not quite as rewarding as expected.

Unlike the Obamacare lawsuit that failed three years ago, the latest case is not based on a radical legal theory. Instead it is based on a novel reading of legislative history. The law allows states to set up their own exchanges to sell insurance to those who don’t have it through employer coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid. If states don’t establish an exchange, the federal government sets one up for them and, as it does with the state exchanges, offers customers tax credits. The trouble is that the law authorizing tax credits defines the exchange as “established by the state.” This ambiguity — does “by the state” not also mean the federal government? — was a technical omission. Many other parts of the law indicate its intent to make tax credits available to customers on the federal and the state exchanges alike.

The plaintiffs are led by a Vietnam veteran in Virginia named David King who makes $39,000 a year and objects to having to purchase insurance on a federal exchange. He would be exempt from this requirement were he not eligible for the tax credit — his $275 monthly payment would rise to a disqualifyingly unaffordable $648 — and this exemption, his lawyers argue, was exactly Congress’s intent. Without tax credits, the insurance would be unaffordable to most customers, triggering an actuarial death spiral that would destroy the individual insurance market in any state that attempted it. The plaintiffs insist Congress created the threat of self-destructing federal exchanges to coerce states into creating their own. (Disregard the copious evidence that the law’s drafters, and officials at the state level in both parties, believed federal exchanges would include tax credits.)

The lawsuit works more on the level of an elaborate prank than as a serious reading of the law. And yet it stands at least some chance of success — it only needs to persuade Republican-appointed judges. That prospect has grown suddenly unnerving because, unlike previous Republican efforts to strangle the law, the current one comes as Obamacare is functioning extremely well. Premiums on the exchanges have come in well under projected costs, customers report higher satisfaction with their coverage than those who have employer-sponsored insurance, and overall medical costs have grown far below the projected rate. It is one thing to take away a scheduled future subsidy, of which most intended beneficiaries are unaware. It is quite another to take away a benefit they’re already using.

Can you imagine the optics of people being taken off chemotherapy, dialysis, or insulin shots? So, Republicans76f68857685129195adf6bfdddec8355 are gearing up a way to blame it on Obama or trying to find a way to get the extreme right to compromise and provide a short term extensions of the credits should SCOTUS agree with the plaintiffs.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has likewise warned that a successful lawsuit would create problems. “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. For decades, medical deprivation of this sort used to be a uniquely American fact of life, at least among industrialized countries. Obamacare has turned it into something different: an actual political problem for opponents of universal health insurance.

Neither Johnson nor Sasse has a real plan designed to stop those horrors from taking place. Instead, their aim is to give Republicans a way to divert the blame onto Obama. The party is circulating contingency plans to temporarily restore the tax credits in exchange for crippling the law in other ways. Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator turned conservative-think-tank “visiting scholar” and financial-industry lobbyist, has proposed that Republicans pass a bill to temporarily extend the credits in return for eliminating the law’s regulations prohibiting insurance companies from rejecting old or sick customers. Competing proposals by Johnson and Sasse would likewise weaken Obamacare’s insurance regulations, ultimately destroying the law’s functionality. Gramm evenacknowledges that his plan “would put Obamacare on the path to extinction.” Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.

At that point, it will fall to the states to either establish their own exchanges or watch their individual-insurance markets collapse. Neither option is terribly attractive for Republicans. The former means surrender. Doing nothing means sowing chaos, deprivation, and death. Will Republicans let this happen?

Legal Analyst and Lawyer Jeffrey Toobin has a lengthy article in The New Yorker examining the issues.il_570xN.713327777_tkas

So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”

No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.

Republicans, of course, will encourage this sentiment. The precise legal claim in King v. Burwell is an esoteric one. It is not based on a claim that Obamacare is unconstitutional. (The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law three years ago.) Rather, the central assertion by the plaintiffs is that the Obama Administration violated the law itself. In any event, the subtlety of the issue at the heart of the case will surely be lost in its aftermath. The headlines will read, correctly, “Court rules against Obamacare,” and this will be all that matters. The Republicans will argue that the Supreme Court showed that the law was flawed from the start, that the Obama Administration is lawless, that a full repeal of the law is the only appropriate response to the Court’s decision—and that the millions who lose their subsides should blame the sponsor of the law. Watch for references to a “failed Presidency.” There’ll be plenty of them.

Understandably, perhaps, the Administration has courted this kind of reaction. Better than anyone, Administration officials know the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court. Advertising this possibility makes sense as a litigation strategy; Obama officials don’t want to make it easy for the Supreme Court to rule against them. In testimony before Congress and elsewhere, Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the defendant in the case), said that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court. But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.

hqdefault “Conservatives” have tried to laugh off the concerns.

 A few weeks ago, the Heritage Foundation’s Edmund Haislmaier published an “Issue Brief” entitled “King v. Burwell: A Loss of Subsidy Does Not Mean a Loss of Coverage.” That’s a provocative title, considering 87 percent of the 8.8 million enrollees from federal exchanges receive those tax credit subsidies, meaning they have low or moderate incomes.

Haislmaier recently was seen saying it’s “premature” to conclude the huge drop in the uninsured rate since Obamacare passed is the result of Obamacare passing. In this brief, he correctly points out the Affordable Care Act and previous federal and state laws would enable current Obamacare enrollees to switch to some other form of health insurance if the lawsuit he supports succeeds in making their current plans unaffordable. (The brief also chides low-income people for using their subsidies to buy “king-crab-legs-and-steak” insurance rather than take the cheapest possible “powdered-milk-and-frozen-peas” plans.)

“In sum, should the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling in King v. Burwell result in people losing insurance subsidies, the affected individuals will have options for maintaining their coverage or choosing replacement coverage,” Haislmaier wrote. There’s even a chart.

Is that good news for people at risk of losing their health insurance subsidies? Maybe not. “Of course, some might still not be able to afford the unsubsidized premium even if they switched to a less expensive plan,” Haislmaier adds as a disclaimer. Of course.

That seems like it could be a problem, since 83 percent of Obamacare enrollees on the federal exchanges have annual incomes of 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which works out to no more than $23,450 for a single person, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm. In other words, these aren’t Americans with a lot of extra money. And the average value of the tax credits they stand to lose is $263 a month, a substantial amount for people at this income level.

There’s a lot of variation in the price of health insurance, but a look at national average premiums and cost-sharing requirements illustrates what the “Let them eat Bronze plans” line of thinking ignores.

A 40-year-old at the poverty line, which is $11,770 for a single person, would pay $20 a month for a mid-tier Silver plan with tax credits. That amounts to about 2 percent of her annual income. Take away the subsidies, and her premiums jump almost 14-fold to $276 — or about 28 percent of her income.

What about dropping down to a lesser Bronze policy with higher out-of-pocket costs like deductibles?

That would cost almost 11 times as much as the subsidized Silver plan, at $213 a month, or about 22 percent of her income. Another person making twice as much money as her would see his premiums for the same Silver policy rise by 80 percent, which would eat up 14 percent of his income. His premiums would rise by 39 percent if he switched to a Bronze plan, which would cost him 11 percent of his yearly earnings.

Even opting for a slimmer policy might not make sense for lower-income people, considering how much more Bronze policyholders have to spend before their coverage kicks in. For example, the average deductible for an individual Bronze plan is $5,181, compared to $2,927 for a Silver plan, according to Health Pocket.

And this doesn’t even factor in the effects of a second type of subsidy only available to people earning up to 250 percent of poverty, which reduces their out-of-pocket health care expenses, and which also would go away in the high court rules for the plaintiffs.

Some are seeing this as the classic American “State’s Right’s” argument that has been responsible for–among 5388385143_aa5e7bbcc7_mmany other things–the Civil War.

But what may eventually prove to be the key line of questioning may have been kicked off by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who expressed concern about the consequences of a ruling for the challengers.  If a state’s residents don’t receive subsidies, she told Carvin, it will lead to a “death spiral”:  because a large group of people in those states will no longer be required to buy health insurance, but insurers will still be required to offer insurance to everyone, only sick people will buy health insurance.  And that will cause everyone’s insurance costs to rise, leading more people to drop out of the insurance market.  States will then feel like they have no choice other than to establish their own exchanges to ward off the “death spiral” – a scenario that is so coercive that it violates the Constitution.

Perhaps critically for the government, Justice Anthony Kennedy – who is often regarded as a strong supporter of states’ rights – also expressed concern about the possibly coercive effect of a ruling for Carvin’s clients.  There is, he told Carvin, “something very powerful to the point” that if the challengers prevail, the states have to choose between the death spiral and creating an exchange.  “There’s a serious constitutional problem,” he concluded.  (Carvin tried to downplay this concern by telling Kennedy that the government had not raised this issue, but Kennedy quickly retorted that “we sometimes think of things the government doesn’t argue.”)

Like Carvin, Solicitor General Don Verrilli – the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court – also faced questions about the challengers’ right to sue.  But between his acknowledgement that, as Carvin had asserted, a veteran who had only served a short time would not be eligible for free health care and the lack of certainty about the plaintiffs’ 2014 annual incomes (which would determine whether they would be required to buy health insurance at all), the issue didn’t seem to have much traction with the Justices.

On the merits of the challenge to the subsidies, Verrilli faced repeated questions from Justices Scalia and Alito, who were both obviously skeptical of the government’s arguments.  Scalia pushed back against Verrilli’s argument that the challengers’ reading simply doesn’t work, while – by contrast – the government’s interpretation accounts for the ACA’s structure and design.  The question, Scalia admonished Verrilli, is not what Congress intended; the question is what it actually wrote in the statute.  But in any event, Scalia queried a few minutes later, if the Court were to rule for the challengers, did Verrilli and the government actually expect Congress to “really just sit there while disaster ensues?”  (Based on Verrilli’s response – a dubious “This Congress?” – the answer appeared to be yes.)

Justices Alito and Scalia also contested Verrilli’s assertion that, had Congress actually intended to force states to choose between setting up their own exchanges and depriving their residents of subsidies, it would have done so more clearly.  Scalia asked rhetorically why, because the ACA is “not the most elegantly drafted statute,” would it “be so surprising” if Congress didn’t make the states’ obligations obvious?  Alito added that, if Congress didn’t want to limit the subsidies to the residents of states that had set up their own exchanges, it could have used more precise language to do so – as it did, for example, in making clear that the District of Columbia (which is not a state) nonetheless qualifies as a “state” for purposes of the ACA.

So, we’re down to brass tacks again. Will the ACA go down on a technicality which, essentially, is what the law is all about?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Strange Sounds in the Sky, the Fall of Ramadi, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

How could I have slept until 10AM? I can’t believe it. I’ve been waking up really early ever since the time change, which was ages ago. This will be a quickie post, because I have to get ready to go somewhere this afternoon.

Before I get to the latest political news, I wanted to share this weird story I came across a few days ago in The Daily Mail. Please let me know if you think it’s for real or some kind of bizarre mass hypnosis.

What IS this strange sound from the sky? Noise heard across the globe for nearly a DECADE – but nobody has an explanation.

A mysterious noise from the sky is continuing to baffle people all over the world – as well as giving those who hear it sleepless nights.

Sounding like a trumpet or a collective from a brass section of an orchestra, a selection of videos shot from the Canada to Ukraine, via the U.S., Germany and Belarus show strange goings on above us.

And the eerie sounds have been continuously heard at all different times and locations for almost a decade.

The first video posted on YouTube recording the unusual, unearthly sounds, was in 2008 when a user recorded the strange sounds in the sky from Homel, in Belarus.

That same year another anonymous user shared the ‘ear-deafening’ sounds that they insisted ‘were not a hoax,’ from a quiet neighbourhood believed to be in the U.S.

Kimberly Wookey from Terrace, British Columbia in Canada first captured the alien sound in June 2013, and since then she has managed to capture several recordings of the noise with her most recent being on May 7 this year.

There are several examples of recordings of the strange sounds at the Daily Mail link. I looked on YouTube, and dozens of these recordings have been posted. Of course the end-timers are going to think these are trumpets from heaven sounding the last days. Someone in New Jersey thinks it’s a UFO.

Is this going to be another crop-circles-type mystery/hoax? Anyway, I love strange stuff like this, so I thought I’d share and see what you think.

We haven’t been talking about foreign news much lately, but things are not going well in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). I’m sure you’ve heard that ISIS has taken over the Iraqi city of Ramadi. ABC reports: Fall of Ramadi: 30 Car Bombs, 10 as Big as Oklahoma City Blast, US Official Says.

The State Department is sharing new details about the deadly fighting in Ramadi, Iraq, last Sunday, saying the city fell into ISIS hands after the militant group set off 30 suicide car bombs in the city center, 10 of which each were comparable in power to the Oklahoma City truck bomb of 1995.

The explosions took out “entire city blocks,” said a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters at the State Department Wednesday on condition that he not be named. The vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs, were able to gain access to the city center after an armored bulldozer plowed through T-wall barricades lining the city’s critical government buildings, the official said, adding that the same bulldozer was later used as a power VBIED, itself.

Soon after the bombs went off, the Iraqis deployed a reinforcing column into the city center, but they were forced to retreat after coming under heavy enemy fire, the official said. That retreat led to a larger exodus of Iraqi security forces and the civilian populations, leaving the streets looking “barren,” according to this official.

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ABC also has video at the link. A little more:

The State Department and the Pentagon insist the fall of Ramadi does not closely resemble that of Mosul in 2014, when, after only a week of fighting, Islamic State forces were able to take over the entire city as ISF forces abandoned the posts, equipment and even their uniforms.

The State Department official argued that Ramadi has been fiercely contested for 18 months, as both sides controlled equal parts of the city. It wasn’t until the critical government center fell this weekend that ISIS was able to lay claim to the entire provincial capital.

But the official admitted that, in this case, the Iraqi forces did leave some U.S.-made weapons behind. The official suggested that if the enemy attempts to commandeer any of the bigger weapons, they would be killed in airstrikes.

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Washington Post columnist David Ignatius disagrees. He calls the fall of Ramadi a “tragic replay” of the “Mosul debacle.”

The capture of Ramadi last weekend by Islamic State fighters is a significant setback for U.S. strategy in Iraq and shows that, nearly a year after the extremists overran Mosul, the United States still doesn’t have a viable plan for protecting the country’s Sunni areas.

The collapse of the Iraqi army in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was in some ways a replay of the Mosul debacle in June 2014. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi military, though trained and retrained by the United States, appeared to lack the leadership or will to fight off a relatively small but ferocious onslaught of Sunni insurgents.

The Ramadi defeat exposed the sectarian tensions that underlie this war. Among the urgent questions: Are Shiite regular army troops ready to fight and die to protect Sunnis, or will their lines collapse in Sunni areas, as happened in Mosul and now Ramadi? If the tougher Iranian-backed Shiite militias are sent instead to do the job, will the Sunni population see them as a Shiite occupation army — setting the stage for a generation of sectarian revenge killing?

Gee, do you think maybe Bush and Cheney might have made a mistake when they attacked Iraq based on questionable intelligence?

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Charles Pierce sees a replay of much tragic events in the more distant past:

The Fall Of Ramadi And The Vietnam Syndrome: In which we relive that which we ought not to have done in the first place.

It goes back to the “Bloody Shirt” campaigns in the decades after the Civil War. However, at least in those campaigns, the people waving the bloody shirt were doing so at people who actively had committed treason against the government of the United States and were attempting (with too much success) to win at the polls what they’d lost on the battlefield. More recent uses of the techniques sadly have been designed to cover the ass of bellicose mistakes, and worse, all over the world. Which means the “bloody shirt” begins to slide toward the Dolchstosslegendeof post-WWI Germany. And that never is a good thing.

In our current situation, we are seeing the beginnings of the kind of rhetoric that poisoned our politics for decades after the collapse of South Vietnam. In fact, there was a lot of that going around in 2006, when it became plain that the Iraq invasion had been sold on moonshine by a cabal of geopolitical fantasts and Dick Cheney….

The only way for the people who shook their moneymakers for the war in 2002 to justify their continued place in our politics is to use ISIL to replace the aluminum tubes and hope that enough people don’t notice what a grotesque fast shuffle this is. That will clear the way for the candidates on the Republican side — Rubio, Graham, Jeb (!), and, most recently, Chris Christie — who want to revive the old neocon hoo-rah while distancing themselves from its savage consequences. It looks very much like “Who lost Iraq?” may replace the disastrous decisions of the Avignon Presidency in this campaign, and that a good chunk of the Republican field will be perfectly happy to allow that to happen. For all the talk of the president’s fecklessness from the chickenhawk choir, what those candidates are about right now is the worst kind of cowardice.

Jesus. When will it ever end?

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Talking Points Memo discusses a recent survey of voter attitudes.

Study: Lawmakers Assume Voters Are Way More Conservative Than They Are.

“Pick an American state legislator at random, and chances are that he or she will have massive misperceptions about district views on big-ticket issues, typically missing the mark by 15 percentage points,” David Broockman and Christopher Skovron wrote in a study for the Scholarly Strategy Network originally published in 2013.

To investigate the question, the duo surveyed thousands of state legislators and compared their perceptions of voters to people’s actual views, derived from a large body of public opinion data.

Their conclusion: “legislators usually believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.”

On three issues — universal healthcare, same-sex marriage, and welfare — lawmakers’ assumptions about what their constituents believed were “15-20 percent more conservative, on average,” than the actual base of public support for such issues.

Most striking, both liberal and conservative lawmakers assume their voters are much further to the right than they actually are.

I’m not surprised, but it’s good to see intuition backed by empirical research.

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More news, links only:

David Wiegel at Bloomberg Politics: Rand Paul Launches His ‘Filibuster’ Against Patriot Act Renewal.

Politico: Rand Paul calls it a night after 10 1/2 hours. It’s not clear whether his speech on the PATRIOT Act had any real effect on Mitch McConnell’s plans.

Michael Schmidt at the NYT: A Closer Look at Hillary Clinton’s Emails on Benghazi. Also, First Batch of Hillary Clinton Emails Captures Concerns Over Libya.

Des Moines Register: Huckabee decides to skip Iowa Straw Poll.

Bloomberg Politics: Iowa Republicans Are Worried About Jeb Bush’s Viability.

CNN: Jeb Bush rails against ‘intellectual arrogance’ in climate change debate.

The Hill: Obama: Climate change deniers endangering national security.

The WaPo: Fox News rules will limit the field in first GOP presidential debate.

 

 


Tuesday Reads: The GOP Clown Car

clown car via crooks and liars

Good Morning!!

In this today’s Washington Post, Dana Millbank belatedly latches onto a very old meme–The Republican field is a clown car–in order to promote one of the clowns.

“If you can’t take a joke,” Lindsey Graham has said , “don’t run for president.”

Graham, a senator from South Carolina and one of umpteen Republicans running for president, can take a joke — which is why he appreciates the absurdity that is the GOP field. There are far too many candidates (so many that there are concerns they won’t all fit on a debate stage), and to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.

“I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals — call me, I’ll come,” Graham told a crowd in New Hampshire last month. He said voters should ignore Hillary Clinton and “look to the 35 people running for president on the Republican side. And just shoot up among us until you get one of us out of the tree.”

But what if you are the joke? Just think, Graham could be the first obviously closeted gay man to win the nomination of the party that hates gays and wants them to be second class citizens.

Ted Cruz tried for his 15 minutes of fame by holding the first announcement. Marco Rubio drew thousands to Miami’s Freedom Tower. Mike Huckabee brought in aging crooner Tony Orlando but was easily eclipsed by Ben Carson, who had a musical extravaganza and a video putting the candidate in the company of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Former New York governor George Pataki, perhaps the smallest of the GOP Lilliputians, announced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week that . . . he will make his announcement on May 28. Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he would make an announcement in June and that “the announcement is going to surprise a lot of people.”

It would probably surprise a lot of people if Trump said something that made sense.

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Sigh . . . .

Also in this morning’s WaPo, Bobby Jindal hints that he too will have an important announcement soon: Bobby Jindal launches presidential exploratory committee.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Monday formally launched a presidential exploratory committee, the clearest indication yet that he is gearing up for a White House run.

“For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation,” Jindal said in a statement. “If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path.”

The Louisiana Republican has made frequent visits to key early voting states in recent months, testing a message centered on the need to “restore the American Dream,” which he says President Obama’s “weak leadership” has diminished. But despite his experience as governor and a compelling personal background as the American-born son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has struggled to make an impact in national polls of potential Republican candidates.

If Jindal does anything “dramatically different,” I’d be stunned. But he’ll just be peddling the usual Koch brothers gibberish to very small audiences.

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What are the other clown car occupants up to?

Rick Sanatorum has been busy either grossly misinterpreting or blatantly lying about a book he supposedly read.

Buzzfeed: Harvard Professor: Rick Santorum Is Misusing My Book To Say “All Black Men Are Sexual Predators.”

Last week, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum called men who father children with multiple women “sexual predators.”

When making his argument to the socially-conservative Cornerstone organization in New Hampshire, Santorum cited statistics on marriage from Harvard professor Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids.

“Another new statistic just came out in his book. A majority of children being born out of wedlock today in America are born in families where the father is in the home. But they’re not married,” said Santorum. “So they are born to cohabiting couples. So the majority of children born out of wedlock are born to cohabiting couples. And what does Putnam say about these? They stuck to them longitudinally, they never get married. Let me use that term, never, like one or two percent ever get married.

“And he compared it when he was growing up in the 1950s and when children were conceived out of wedlock, what happened in the 1950s,” added Santorum. “We all know what happened in the 1950s and here is the amazing thing, this is Putnam saying this, 80 plus percent of these marriages succeeded.

“And children were raised in stable homes. Now these fathers leave the home and not just father children with that particular women, they father a child with another women, and another and another. We have created predators, sexual predators particularly where, again, Putnam—low income America.”

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Here’s what Putnam had to say about Santorum’s comments.

“I’m a progressive and I think the evidence is that first of all, there has been a collapse in the working family class family, black and white, and that’s bad for kids,” Putnam said responding to Santorum in a speech to promote his book last week.

Putnam said Santorum misinterpreted what he was saying and took advantage of “the fact I was trying to be open.”

“But there is a presidential candidate, who yesterday quoted me as saying therefore—he’s quoted me as saying all black men are sexual predators. I’m not going to say who it is but what I’m trying to say is, he’s a conservative and he took what I was saying and sort of so misinterpreted it that it’s nothing like—it’s just isn’t even in the universe of what I said. But that’s an example of how at least this one guy was in effect taking advantage of the fact that I was trying to be open. He says ‘isn’t it amazing that this liberal’, actually he said ‘this extreme leftist at Harvard acknowledges that blah, blah, blah.’”

Another clown car occupant, Rand Paul wants to eliminate the Department of Education (Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee do too). Think Progress explains: What Would Actually Happen If Rand Paul Eliminated The Department Of Education. According to TP,

We wouldn’t have a federal department to administer Pell Grants to students….

There wouldn’t be any oversight over states when they break civil rights laws….

There wouldn’t be a department to check on rampant inequality between low-income school districts and wealthy districts.

We would have inconsistent education data, as the quality of data would vary among the states….

There would be more gender discrimination within schools….

There would be no way to hold schools accountable for the funds they receive.

Of course for the GOP clowns, those are goals that should be wholeheartedly supported.

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Jeb Bush stumbled out the block and has continued to stumble and stagger on his path to an as-yet unannounced presidential candidacy. Here’s the latest from Reuters, via Yahoo News: Jeb Bush sees no constitutional right to gay marriage.

(Reuters) – Republican Jeb Bush said in a weekend radio interview that he does not believe the Constitution grants a right to gay marriage, emphasizing his support for “traditional marriage.”

The Supreme Court is expected by the end of June to make a landmark ruling that could make gay marriage the law of the land or return the decision to individual states.

“It’s at the core of the Catholic faith and to imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, (a) committed child-centered family system, is hard to imagine,” Bush told the Christian Broadcasting Network show, “The Brody File, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

“So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling because they are going to decide whatever they decide – I don’t know what they are going to do – we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage,” said Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago….

Bush also said in the radio interview that Christian business owners should be able to refuse, “if it’s based on a religious belief,” to provide services to same-sex couples.

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But at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern notes that: Jeb Bush Accidentally Made a Brilliant Argument Against Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty” Laws.

Jeb Bush has an odd conception of liberty. As governor of Florida, Bush strongly opposed same-sex marriage, preferring to force committed gay couples to live as legal strangers with no ability to formally adopt their own children. As his presidential campaign warms up, though, Bush has taken a selectively expansive view of liberty.According to Bush, anti-gay business owners should have a legal right to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking to celebrate their relationship.

Bush’s support for anti-gay “religious liberty” laws are no surprise—unless you happen to have believed that silly BuzzFeed report that he would be “2016’s gay-friendly Republican.” What is surprising is that Bush framed his endorsement of such laws in a way that beautifully illustrates exactly why the usual argument for such laws is so fatuous. Take a look at his comment:

A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.

At bottom, Bush is arguing that the law should differentiate between identity and conduct. He believes the state may protect gays from discrimination because they’re gay (identity), but not because they’re celebrating a gay relationship (conduct). Unfortunately for Bush, this argument fails quite spectacularly in the wedding context, because homosexuality is an identity defined by its conduct. To be gay is to be attracted to, and maybe marry, someone of the same sex. There is no more fundamental way to discriminate against a gay person than to refuse to serve them based on the fact that they are marrying someone of the same sex.

cartoon-citizens-united-pledge

Koch brothers favorite Scott Walker is having some not-so-funny (from his point of view) problems. He has been a target of corruption investigations for the past couple of years. Now this from The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Records indicate Scott Walker was copied on letter promising loan to donor.

Madison — State records say that Gov. Scott Walker received a copy of a 2011 letter pledging a $500,000 taxpayer loan to a now-defunct Milwaukee construction company headed by a Walker donor, seemingly contradicting statements by the governor and his aides that he was not aware of the award.

A spokeswoman for Walker said that, in spite of the records, a copy of the letter from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was never delivered to the governor’s office.

The Sept. 9, 2011, letter from Paul Jadin, WEDC’s chief executive officer at the time, was sent to William Minahan, owner of Building Committee Inc., a company that is now being sued by WEDC for defaulting on the unsecured loan without delivering the promised project and the jobs it was supposed to create.

Jadin said in his letter of intent that he was writing “on behalf of Governor Scott Walker” and noted “cc: Scott Walker, Governor” at the bottom.

Walker’s top cabinet appointee, then Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, urged WEDC officials to provide the loan, and Walker’s then-chief of staff Keith Gilkes attended an initial meeting on it, according to records provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by the Walker administration.

“In closing Governor Walker and I are firmly committed to doing everything possible to expedite the processing and awarding of this incentive award,” Jadin wrote in the letter.

Read the details at the link.

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And from the La Crosse Tribune: Hours after damning audit, Scott Walker calls off WEDC-WHEDA merger.

Gov. Scott Walker has cancelled a planned merger of two economic development agencies after a new audit said Walker’s job-creating entity failed to follow statutes or its own policies when making financial awards.

The audit released Friday also says the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. failed to meet all statutory requirements related to program oversight and that staff “did not consistently comply with policies established by WEDC’s own governing board” which is chaired by Walker.

The audit comes as Walker had been calling for a merger of WEDC and WHEDA, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

Within hours of the audit release, Walker issued a statement calling for that merger to be removed from the state budget along with a merger of two other state agencies.

“After hearing concerns from legislators, stakeholders, and the WHEDA and WEDC boards, we asked legislators to remove the proposed agency mergers from the state budget and we asked the bill authors to not move forward with the proposed separate legislation,” Walker said.

Walker also had proposed a merger of the Department of Financial Institutions and the Department of Safety and Professional Services into one regulatory agency. That merger is also cancelled, he said.

Wisconsin Democrats are gloating . . .

“While Scott Walker has completely abandoned Wisconsin to advance his presidential ambitions the continued incompetence and ineptitude at his Economic Disaster Corporation is bordering on criminal negligence at this point,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said in a statement.

Meanwhile, wicked witch Hillary Clinton and her husband (who is a different person) got paid a lot of money for making speeches. Horrors!

 That’s all the clown car news I have room for today. What else is happening?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Boston Bomber Gets Death Penalty, A Baltimore Cold Case, and Other News

Lazy cat

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the jury in the Boston Marathon bombing case sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the 2013 terrorist attack that killed three people and severely injured hundreds more.

From the Washington Post: 

Two years after the horrific bombing of this city’s famed marathon, a federal jury on Friday sentenced to death one of the young men responsible for the attack, turning away appeals for mercy from his attorneys and even some victims.

The jury of seven women and five men rendered its decision after deliberating for more than 14 hours. As the verdict was read, the bomber, 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, displayed no sign of emotion.

The outcome was a victory for prosecutors, who said the former college student worked in tandem with his older brother and carried out the attack in a “heinous, cruel and depraved manner.” Jurors rejected arguments that Tsarnaev had fallen under the sway of his brother, Tamerlan, and was remorseful over the suffering he caused.

Tsarnaev will be transferred to a federal prison, where he will remain until he is put to death by lethal injection. His attorneys did not comment after the verdict, but they are expected to appeal the sentence.

I was very disappointed in this decision. I strongly resent the Feds coming into Massachusetts, where we don’t have the death penalty and only 18% of citizens supported it for Tsarnaev, and forcing us to accept this barbaric practice against the public will. It also makes me feel sick at heart that the victims will now have to deal with years–probably decades–of appeals of the sentence. Tsarnaev should have been put away for life and left to fade into obscurity.

Tsarnaev showed no emotion as his death sentence was read.

Tsarnaev showed no emotion as his death sentence was read.

ABC News reports: The Eerie Quiet in Court as Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Sentenced to Die.

An eerie quiet settled over the federal courthouse in Boston today as victims and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing heard a jury ordered Dzhkohar Tsarnaev to be put to death.

Liz Norden, who wanted Tsarnaev to get the death penalty for detonating the bomb that left two of her sons amputees and their bodies forever burned and scarred, cried quietly when the jury decided that the 21-year-old should die for his crimes.

Bill and Denise Richard, who strongly advocated against capital punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sat stone faced as the verdict was read, even though it was their 8-year-old son Martin who was the youngest victim killed in the horrific attack….

Boston bombing victim Martin Richard.

Boston bombing victim Martin Richard.

Inside Courtroom 9 the jurors, seven women and five men, stood as the verdict slip was read, as did Tsarnaev. One male juror removed his eyeglasses and wiped his eyes with a tissue and leaned his body into the rail of the jury box as if to prop himself up. Two female jurors, their cheeks flushed red, sipped from water bottles. Another woman had her arms crossed in front of her.

Tsarnaev never looked toward the jury box, not even when it became clear that those men and women decided he should be put to death. One of his defense attorneys, Miriam Conrad, covered her mouth with her hand. Once the verdict was read, police in court including Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau and Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, who is personal friends with the Richard family, exchanged glances.

Throughout it all, the mood in the courtroom was heavy and subdued. The judge’s clerk Paul Lyness admonished those assembled inside before it began that “any outbursts” would be treated as contempt of court. There were none.

Tsarnaev will most like await his appeals at a Federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Guantanamo North

Guantanamo North

The Indy Star reports: If Boston Bomber is executed, it’ll likely be done in Indiana.

According to an official at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Terre Haute is the only prison that has the special confinement unit that houses federal death row inmates. While the BOP could not go as far as to say that Terre Haute is the only prison where a federal inmate could be put to death, every federal execution has taken place at the facility since 2001.

Timothy McVeigh, Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones Jr. were the last three inmates to be strapped to the table in the western Indiana prison and have a lethal drug cocktail run through their veins.

Tsarnaev may now face that same fate.

Larry A. Mackey, the attorney who tried both of the Oklahoma City bombing cases and delivered the prosecution’s closing argument in McVeigh’s, told The Indianapolis Star it’s “highly, highly unlikely” Tsarnaev will win his appeals.

“The judge has been very careful in protecting the defendant’s rights,” said Mackey, who has been following the case closely since it went to trial in March.

Sometime in the next 60 days, Mackey said a formal sentencing hearing will be held, and Tsarnaev will return to court with his council for the judge to impose the jury’s decision to put him to death.

Following the hearing, Tsarnaev will be transported to Terre Haute’s special confinement unit where he’ll wait out the exhaustion of his appeals, said Mackey.

Death chamber at Terre Haute supermax prison

Death chamber at Terre Haute supermax prison

More on the Terre Haute prison from the Boston Herald:

The 1,400-inmate, all-male U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind., is the likely landing spot for the 21-year-old Tsarnaev, who would be housed at the prison’s “special confinement unit” with the other 50-plus inmates on federal death row.

Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, 74 federal convicts have been sentenced to die for their crimes, but just three have actually been executed and another 10 have been taken off death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Sampson, who has since had his death sentenced overturned, first went to Terre Haute following his 2003 conviction.

All three who have been put to death — Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and Texans Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones Jr. — were executed at Terre Haute’s in-house chamber.

Robert Nigh, who represented McVeigh, described the Indiana lock-up as a place where inmates “certainly had access to other inmates, commissary, reasonable opportunity for recreation, hygiene.”

The sight — and smells — of the prison’s “death house” still stick with him. “That was surreal,” he said. “When you walked into it, my recollection is (seeing) stark white walls, and it smelled and felt like a hospital or a clinic. It felt like a place where you go to get medical care. It had that feel to it. And it’s designed for the exact opposite.”

An article at Business Insider makes the prison sound a lot worse than the above description: What it’s like inside the terrifying super-max prison where the Boston Bomber is expected to be executed.

Though US Penitentiary Terre Haute has been open since 1940, Tsarnaev would likely be held in the Communications Management Units, a special unit opened in 2006 for terrorism-related offenses.

Because of the prison’s reputation for housing some of the country’s biggest security threats, some have called it “Guantanamo North.”

According to NPR, the units have 50 cells and house many men convicted in notable post-9/11 cases, as well as those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1999 “Millennium” plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, and multiple hijacking cases.

The Communication Management Units in the prison severely restrict communications between inmates and the outside world. Inmates are limited to two two-hour nonphysical visits per month, plus one 15-minute phone call per week.

Mail must be screened, copied, and evaluated before being delivered to inmates. All conversations must be in English.

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

According to Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, “a spiritual adviser to death-row inmates at Terre Haute,”

They are in a small cell by themselves. All their meals are pushed through a slot. There is no recreation, but they can go out of their cells three times a week into cages,” Gerardot told The Tribune-Star, a newspaper in Terre Haute.

Inmates can speak to one another from the front of their cells, according to Gerardot, and have limited time to use a phone, e-mail, or a library.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how they keep their sanity. They have to be persons of great strength of will to get up every day, and know they have no choices,” Gerardot said.

Tsarnaev will likely wish he had died in the Watertown shootout like his older brother Tamerlan. And as the Boston Globe notes this morning “everything could have been different” for this young man.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could have been graduating from UMass Dartmouth this weekend. Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier could still be alive.

But everything changed when Tsarnaev, along with his older brother, detonated a pair of bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

A 19-year-old sophomore at UMass Dartmouth at the time of the bombing, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death on Friday—while a commencement ceremony for the Class of 2015 was underway. He convicted in April on 17 capital charges and sentenced to death for six of them.

According to a UMass Dartmouth transcript introduced in court during the trial, Tsarnaev was an Engineering undergraduate with a mechanical engineering major during the Fall 2011 semester, his first in college. In the Spring 2013 semester, he was classified as a Arts & Sciences undergraduate with no declared major. The commencement ceremony for undergraduates in the College of Engineering was held Friday at the university’s Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial Amphitheater. The ceremony for undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences is scheduled for Saturday.

Tsarnaev may never have graduated, even had he and his brother not chosen to perpetrate one of the worst terrorsist acts on U.S. soil. At the time of his arrest, he had a cumulative GPA of 1.094.

But perhaps he could have been among those students celebrating a new a beginning this weekend instead of facing a death sentence.

And everything could have been different.

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik in 1970

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik in 1970

We’ve been hearing a lot about corruption at the Baltimore Police Department lately. Yesterday I read a fascinating story about a cold case that shows the corruption there has a long history. If you’re interested in true crime stories and corruption in the Catholic Church, I highly recommend this piece by Laura Bassett at The Huffington Post,

Buried In Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder Of A Nun Who Knew Too Much.

It’s the story of the murder of a nun who had tried to help girls who were being sexually abused by at least one priest at a Baltimore Catholic school in the late 1960s. Here’s the introduction. I hope it grabs you and you decide to read the entire long article.

On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.

It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor’s appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn’t afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He’d baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly.

This time, though, Maskell didn’t bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.

It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.

Father A. Joseph Maskell

Father A. Joseph Maskell

The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her.

Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. “I knew it was her,” she recalled recently. “She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”

Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. “Help me get these off of her!” she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled.

Now, decades later, a group of women who attended Keogh back in those days are working together with a journalist and a former Baltimore police office to find out who killed Sister Cathy.

More news, headlines only:

LOL!!

LOL!!

Steve Benen at MSNBC: Jeb Bush sees Apple Watch as part of anti-Obamacare plan.

Talking Points Memo: Judith Miller And James O’Keefe Discuss Ethics In Journalism (VIDEO).

Talking Points Memo: Orlando Pub Owner Allegedly Holds Black Couple At Gunpoint: ‘Call Jesse Jackson.’

New York Times: Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS Leader, Killed by Special Forces, US Says.

Times of India: 8 bodies recovered from crashed US chopper in Nepal.

CNN: Romney and Holyfield rumble in Salt Lake.

CNN: Amtrak train may have been struck by something, conductor tells NTSB.

NYT: Union and Tom Brady’s Lawyers Threaten to Challenge Suspension in Court.


Thursday Reads: The Philly Amtrak Crash

Paul Newman reading outside

Good Morning!!

The Amtrak crash in Philadelphia is the top story this morning, as more details come out. Yesterday we learned that the train was going 106 mph when it derailed on a curve. We now know the identity of the engineer, and he claims he doesn’t remember anything about what happened.

NBC News: Amtrak Engineer Doesn’t Remember Train Crash, Lawyer Says.


Tuesday Reads

 cat-readingGood Morning!!

Nepal has been rocked by 7.3 magnitude earthquake only a few weeks after the last one. From The LA Times:

Still reeling from last month’s devastating earthquake, Nepal was hammered again Tuesday by a magnitude 7.3 temblor that caused dozens more deaths, unleashed fresh landslides and brought down unsteady buildings.

By late afternoon, Nepal’s Home Affairs Ministry said at least 42 people were killed and more than 1,117 injured in the largest aftershock yet recorded from the 7.8 quake on April 25. Officials warned that the toll could rise.

The epicenter was about 47 miles northeast of the capital, Katmandu, near the Chinese border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The April 25 quake, which killed more than 8,150 people, was centered in the mountains west of Katmandu.

The tremor struck just before 1 p.m. local time, sending residents of the capital scurrying into the open air for safety, and was followed by a series of smaller tremors that rattled nerves even further.

Within hours, new makeshift tents had begun popping up in parts of Katmandu as families that had survived the earlier quake and returned to their homes in recent days decided again they were safer sleeping outdoors.

The Hindu is publishing live updates from Reuters. They report multiple aftershocks. What a terrible tragedy! Obviously this is a developing story, and we’ll hear more throughout the day and in coming days.

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I missed this important investigative article from the Baltimore Sun over the weekend: Freddie Gray among many suspects who do not get medical care from Baltimore police.

Records obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that city police often disregard or are oblivious to injuries and illnesses among people they apprehend — in fact, such cases occur by the thousands.

From June 2012 through April 2015, correctional officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center have refused to admit nearly 2,600 detainees who were in police custody, according to state records obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

In those records, intake officers in Central Booking noted a wide variety of injuries, including fractured bones, facial trauma and hypertension. Of the detainees denied entry, 123 had visible head injuries, the third most common medical problem cited by jail officials, records show.

The jail records redacted the names of detainees, but a Sun investigation found similar problems among Baltimore residents and others who have made allegations of police brutality.e

Salahudeen Abdul-Aziz, who was awarded $170,000 by a jury in 2011, testified that he was arrested and transported to the Western District after being beaten by police and left with a broken nose, facial fracture and other injuries. Hours later, he went to Central Booking and then to Bon Secours Hospital, according to court records.

Abdul-Aziz said last week that jailers at Central Booking “wouldn’t let me in the door as soon as they saw my face. … I thought I was gonna die that day. Freddie Gray wasn’t so lucky.”

Read the rest at the Baltimore Sun link.

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The Washington Post, which initially published leaks favorable to the Baltimore PD, published an editorial in response the the Sun article: Too much black and blue in Baltimore.

TWO OR three times a day on average, suspects in the custody of the Baltimore police are turned away by the city jail because they are deemed too battered, beaten, bruised or otherwise injured or sick to be processed and admitted. The police are forced to head instead for a hospital emergency room to seek treatment for suspects suffering from head injuries, broken bones, hypertension and an array of other afflictions.

The frequency of such occurrences was detailed over the weekend by the Baltimore Sun, which obtained records from the city’s detention center under the Maryland Public Information Act. According to those records, the jail has turned away nearly 2,600 ailing detainees since June 2012 — about 2 percent of all bookings.

That staggering figure suggests the Baltimore police are heedless, at best, of the physical welfare of suspects in their custody. It also may help explain how Freddie Gray could have pleaded for medical care at least five times after he was arrested last month before the officers who detained him bothered to summon a paramedic — by which time it was too late….

The police understand — and after 2,600 reaffirmations in three years, they should be acutely aware — that they are obliged to seek medical attention for suspects who are sick or injured before the jail will admit them. Yet somehow that obligation doesn’t seem institutionally ingrained in cops on the beat….

The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation of the city police, announced last week by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, should take account of these injured detainees, including the causes and circumstances of their injuries and whether police are adequately trained and instructed in assessing them. And it should examine whether African American suspects are more frequently hurt and denied prompt medical care than other detainees.

15730695-mmmain

Journalists are still reacting to Seymour Hersh’s poorly sourced accusations that the Obama administration conspired with Pakistan to stage a fake raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and then lied about it. Here are two I found this morning:

Lawfare: Hersh’s Account of the Bin Laden Raid is Journalistic Malpractice, by Yishai Schwartz

When a journalist writes a tell-all story about a classified operation, and he suspects the story will catalyze anti-American anger, provide fuel for terrorist groups, and cause severe friction with foreign governments, the act of publication is morally fraught. When the story is based on obscenely thin sourcing and careens into conspiracy theories, the decision to publish becomes indefensible.

Seymour Hersh has had a long and distinguished history as one of America’s finest investigative journalists. In recent years, he has gone a bit kooky. In 2011, for instance, he suggested that Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, and the leadership of the US Joint Special Operations Forces were “all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.” His latest story, in which he claims that the entire story of Bin Laden’s killing is an elaborate cover-up for a joint Pakistani-American operation, may be his kookiest.

As many have already pointed out, Hersh’s version offers a combination of the inconsistent and the inexplicable. Why, for instance, would the Pakistanis help plan an elaborate raid, complete with a recall of Bin Laden’s Pakistani guards—rather than just hand Bin Laden over directly—if they always intended to claim he’d been killed in a drone strike hundreds of miles away? Worse, the key contentions rely on the exclusive word of one unnamed source who was a) retired, and b) on Hersh’s own account, only “knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.”

To be sure, there are scraps of Hersh’s hodgepodge narrative that may turn out to be true. That a CIA “walk-in” may have contributed to the intel leading to Bin Laden’s whereabouts, for instance, matches a tidbit that NBC has confirmed recently. And Hersh’s insistence that someone highly placed in the Pakistani intelligence services knew of Bin Laden’s presence has been pretty widely believed for a while. But leaping from these plausible and relatively minor details to the rest of the fantastic tale Hersh spins simply boggles the mind.

It’s unsurprising then that The New Yorker passed on the story (as it, along with the The Washington Post, have reportedly done with the last few of Hersh’s flights of fantasy.)

The London Review of Books, on the other hand, lacked the same degree of restraint. This is hardly surprising given the editorial leadership’s apparent lack of interest in fact-checking. As LRB senior editor Christian Lorentzen wrote in a 2012 piece suitably titled Short Cuts,” “the facts are the burden of the reporter…nobody at the paper fact-checks full time; that’s an American thing… I miss New York sometimes, but I don’t miss its schizophrenic obsession with facts, or the puritan hysteria that attends the discovery that a memoir should have been called a novel.” The LRB, it seems, takes pride in its sloppiness. Perhaps they have an editorial opening for Stephen Glass?

As a former fact-checker, I find the LRB’s approach part puzzling and part offensive. As a citizen who would like to form judgements and opinions on the basis of actual information, I’m horrified.

Wow! Read more at Lawfare Blog.

reading-cats-bench-garden-statue

Politico: Sy Hersh, Lost in a Wilderness of Mirrors, by Jack Shafer.

Hersh leads the reader into a Wonderland of his own, thinly sourced retelling of the raid on Bin Laden’s complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan. According to Hersh, who cites American sources, “bin Laden had been a prisoner of the [Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency] at the Abbottabad compound since 2006” and his ISI captors eased the way for the American SEAL team to skip into Pakistan on their helicopters, kill the al Qaeda leader, and then skip out.

It’s a messy omelet of a piece that offers little of substance for readers or journalists who may want to verify its many claims. The Hersh piece can’t be refuted because there’s not enough solid material to refute. Like the government officials who spun the original flawed Abbottabad stories, he simply wants the reader to trust him.

Hersh’s piece quarrels with almost every aspect of the official story, asserting that much of it is cover designed to protect the Pakistanis who sold bin Laden out to the United States for military aid….
Hersh may very well be onto something—what did the Pakistanis know, when did they know it, and how much did they help? And that debate appears to be starting in earnest already, with NBC News quickly building off Hersh’s article. But Hersh’s potentially valid question on that subject is almost lost in the broad sweep of rolling back so many other stories and quibbling with effectively every known detail of one of the most thoroughly leaked secret operations in history.

By re-exploring the bin Laden operation, Hersh has thrust himself into the phenomenological territories that Cold War spymaster James Jesus Angleton called a “wilderness of mirrors.” In this clandestine world, truths are constructed, obliterated and bent to serve their masters. Adversaries who would deceive abound in this place, and without a reliable map, a compass, a sense of direction and maybe even a pedometer, even the most intrepid voyager (or journalist) can find himself lost. I’ll volunteer to join a search party for Hersh—somebody I’ve long admired—if only somebody can tell me precisely where he is.

Another harsh indictment. I expect “progressive” conspiracy theorists like Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler will attempt to keep this story alive, but it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction in either the mainstream media or the sane alternative media.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More interesting stories, links only:

At Politico, former Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morell recounts his Benghazi experiences: The Real Story of Benghazi. A CIA insider’s account of what happened on 9/11/12.

Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.

The Atlantic, American Religion: Complicated, Not Dead, by Emma Green.

Huffington Post, GOP Crowd Applauds Calling Immigrants Rats and Roaches, by Lauren Windsor.

Reuters, Verizon to buy AOL in push for digital content.

Fox News, Authorities say at least 7 victims found in Connecticut serial killer investigation.

NY Daily News: Connecticut serial killer already jailed for 2003 murder of still-missing woman: report.

What stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Lazy Saturday Reads

Students study for finals on "BU Beach," May 6, 2015

Students study for finals on “BU Beach,” May 6, 2015

Good Morning!!

Well, well, well. Boston University and a newly hired assistant professor of sociology are being attacked by right wing nuts who can’t handle free speech or academic freedom. And so far BU is telling them they’re just going to have to deal with it. I hope they stick to their guns, so to speak. In honor of the school administration doing the right thing, I’m illustrating this post with views of the beautiful BU campus.

Fox News is shocked! Naturally, they begin with a version of “some people say….”

Boston University prof flunks ‘white masculinity’ in controversial tweets.

Critics say a newly-hired Boston University professor has crossed the line with recent tweets bashing whites, but the school says it’s simply free speech.

“White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges,” Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University, tweeted in March.

In another tweet from January, she wrote: “Every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. and every year i find it nearly impossible.”

In another, she called white males a “problem population.”

“Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?” she asked.

View of BU's Charles River Campus.

View of BU’s Charles River Campus.

Horrors! A black female sociologist who studies traditional masculinity had a few things to say on Twitter about white males. No one has to agree with her or even read her tweets (she has now made her account private). The KKK, the American Nazi Party, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Peggy Noonan, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and every other right wing nut you can name have the same rights to say mean things about any groups of people they choose.

Here’s BU’s response to Fox’s request for comment:

“Professor Grundy is exercising her right to free speech and we respect her right to do so,” Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said.

Read more of Grundy’s “controversial” tweets at the Fox News link and at a Patriots fan site here. I don’t know why they’re all bent out of shape about this.

Grudy got her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and her other credentials look pretty good to me.

So far there hasn’t been a lot of reaction to this except from right wing sites like American Thinker and American Spectator. I’ll be keeping an eye on the story and whether BU continues to defend Grundy. If they don’t I’ll be very disappointed. It’s not about agreeing with everything she said; it’s about not giving in to the predictable right wing attacks on anyone who says something they disagree with–even if it’s only on Twitter.

BU College of Arts and Sciences

BU College of Arts and Sciences

In other “diversity” news, a restaurant in Colorado is planning a “White Appreciation Day.” That should make the wingnuts happy. From MSNBC:

A Colorado barbecue joint has sparked national outrage with a racially-tinged promotion: “White Appreciation Day.”

“We have a whole month for Black History Month. We have a whole month for Hispanic heritage month,” Edgar Antillon told KUSA-TV. “So we figured all we could do – the least we can do – is offer one day to appreciate white Americans.”

Antillon told the NBC News affiliate that Rubbin’ Buttz, the restaurant he co-owns in Milliken, Colorado, would observe its “White Appreciation Day” on June 11. On this day, all white customers will receive a 10% discount.

It’s worth noting that Antillon is a first-generation American born to Mexican parents, and he acknowledged to KUSA-TV that he has personally experienced racism in his past.

“We’re all American, plain and simple,” he said to the NBC News affiliate.

Apparently the whole thing started as a joke, and then Antillon decided to actually do it. Who cares? It’s dumb and pointless, unless the goal is just to get national publicity. Why not just ignore it? According to The Root, non-white people could end up suing the restaurant for discrimination. The outrage industry in this country is completely out of control.

6/7/10 1:07:44 PM -- Boston, Massachusetts Campus Scenics of Kemore Square, Boston Skyline, BU Banners and Commonwealth Ave Photo by Vernon Doucette for Boston University

6/7/10 1:07:44 PM — Boston, Massachusetts
Campus Scenics of Kemore Square, Boston Skyline, BU Banners and Commonwealth Ave
Photo by Vernon Doucette for Boston University

Now for a little actual news.

The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down an effort by the state to cut public employee pensions. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled unconstitutional a landmark state pension law that aimed to scale back government worker benefits to erase a massive $105 billion retirement system debt, sending lawmakers and the new governor back to the negotiating table to try to solve the pressing financial issue.

The ruling also reverberated at City Hall, imperiling a similar law Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through to shore up two of the four city worker retirement funds and making it more difficult for him to find fixes for police, fire and teacher pension funds that are short billions of dollars.

At issue was a December 2013 state law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn that stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits.

Employee unions sued, arguing that the state constitution holds that pension benefits amount to a contractual agreement and once they’re bestowed, they cannot be “diminished or impaired.” A circuit court judge in Springfield agreed with that assessment in November. State government appealed that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that economic necessity forced curbing retirement benefits.

Marsh Chapel at center of Charles River campus

Marsh Chapel at center of Charles River campus

The court disagreed with the state, and really slapped down the Illinois legislature in their decision.

“Our economy is and has always been subject to fluctuations, sometimes very extreme fluctuations,” Republican Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote on behalf of all seven justices. “The law was clear that the promised benefits would therefore have to be paid and that the responsibility for providing the state’s share of the necessary funding fell squarely on the legislature’s shoulders.

“The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and … it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible,” Karmeier wrote.

“It is our obligation, however, just as it is theirs, to ensure that the law is followed. That is true at all times. It is especially important in times of crisis when, as this case demonstrates, even clear principles and long-standing precedent are threatened. Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law. It is a summons to defend it,” he wrote.

Nice win for workers for a change.

Shot of BU buildings on Commonwealth Avenue

Shot of BU buildings on Commonwealth Avenue

Also from the Trib, Chicago teachers are standing up for their rights too: Chicago Teachers Union files labor complaint against school board.

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint accusing the city’s school board of bad-faith bargaining and refusing to engage in mediation toward a new contract.

Union officials said little progress has been made over eight formal bargaining sessions and numerous informal meetings since November. The complaint filed Wednesday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board follows the union’s rejection earlier this week of the board’s proposal that teachers take on a greater share of pension payments….

As she did in the months before the 2012 teachers strike, CTU President Karen Lewis sought to make Mayor Rahm Emanuel the focus of the union’s displeasure with talks to replace a contract that expires June 30. The union again accused the city of using the talks to get back at the CTU for its support of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the mayoral election.

“We feel this is reactionary and retaliatory,” Lewis said at a news conference Wednesday. “I guess the fuzzy sweater’s gone,” she said, referring to Emanuel’s wearing a sweater in campaign commercials to indicate a softer personality.

The district, which says it is wrestling with a $1.1 billion deficit weighted with pension payments, wants to save millions of dollars by having teachers pay more into their pension fund. The district wants to end a long-standing agreement that limits teacher paycheck deductions for pensions, the union said.

I have a solution for Chicago’s and for the state of Illinois’s budget problems. Tax the rich. Blaming teachers and government workers isn’t going to solve your money problems. It’s just going to make everything worse. Tax the people who can afford to give something back to the government that constantly favors them.

View of Marsh Chapel with Charles River in foreground

View of Marsh Chapel with Charles River in foreground

We haven’t discussed it here yet, but there was a big election in Great Britain with surprising results.

From The Washington Post after the scope of the conservative victory became clear: British election results point to commanding lead for Conservatives.

Exit polls and partial results after a nationwide vote to pick Britain’s next Parliament showed the Conservative Party with a surprisingly commanding lead Friday, just short of a majority and in a strong position to return to power.

The projections defied virtually all pre-election polls, which forecast a virtual tie between the Tories and the opposition ­Labor Party in the popular vote. Both main parties had been expected to fall well short of the majority needed to claim power outright.

But as the counting continued into dawn Friday, all signs pointed to an emphatic margin in favor of the Conservatives and their leader, Prime Minister ­David Cameron, and to a major disappointment for ­Labor as well as the Liberal Democrats, who paid a steep price for having entered into a coalition with the Conservatives for the past five years.

At dawn Friday, Labor leader Ed Miliband delivered what amounted to a concession speech, saying it had been “a very disappointing and difficult night” for his party.

Meanwhile, in the election’s other stunning development, though one that had been predicted, the Scottish National Party (SNP) was redrawing the map of Scotland with what looked like a historic rout in what has long been one of Labor’s most reliable strongholds.

Another aerial view

Another aerial view

The results in Scotland could have long-term significance for the “United Kingdom.” if the trend toward Scottish independence continues.

From the WaPo again: In U.K. election’s wake, questions on E.U., Scotland.

Newly empowered British Prime Minister David Cameron moved swiftly to establish the terms and priorities for his new government on Friday after a stunning national election that delivered his Conservative Party an unexpected majority, devastated three other parties and redrew the political map of Scotland.

Following predictions that the post-election maneuvering to form a government might take days if not weeks, the Conservative Party’s big victory produced a quick end to speculation about what or who would be in charge.

But if the election produced an unexpectedly clear outcome, it may only have heightened the degree to which the country faces a period of internal debate, ­inward-looking politics and potential instability, with questions about the durability of the United Kingdom and its place in both Europe and the world still to be answered.

Cameron will have to find a way to manage resurgent Scottish nationalists who are demanding more powers and possibly another referendum on independence. Further, his pledge to hold a referendum to determine Britain’s future in the European Union will continue to raise uncertainty about the country’s commitments and reliability there.

From BBC News: World media fear UK EU exit, looser US ties.

A day after the surprise result in the UK elections, world media outlets have been taking a look at the ramifications.

European papers are concerned about the effect on the EU in the light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on leaving. And there is speculation that the Scottish nationalists’ spectacular gains may herald the break-up of the United Kingdom.

A US daily fears the result may be the harbinger of the end of the US-UK “special relationship”, but one Spanish daily is enthralled by a photo of Mr Cameron using cutlery to eat a hot dog.

See examples of media reactions at the link. International Business Times also collected world media reactions, and the stats freaks at FiveThirtyEight had to do some serious soul-searching about why they were completely wrong.

So . . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and have a great spring weekend!!