Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

Last night Josh Rogin reported that warmongering Senator John McCain had sneaked across the Syrian border from Turkey and talked to Gen. Idris Salem, head of the “Free Syrian Army.”

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Apparently McCain decided to play Pretend President to celebrate Memorial Day. I haven’t been paying close attention to the news for the past few days, but I think I would have seen any reports that the White House or the State Department had requested Senator McNasty’s help in reaching out to opposition forces in Syria.

Prior to his visit inside Syria, McCain and Idris had separate meetings with two groups of FSA commanders and their Civil Revolutionary Council counterparts in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Rebel military and civilian leaders from all over Syria came to see McCain, including from Homs, Qusayr, Idlib, Damascus, and Aleppo. Idris led all the meetings.

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition.

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

McCain’s office confirmed to the Guardian that he had slipped into the country in recent days but declined to comment on the outcome of his talks with the rebel groups or whether it had hardened his views on arming them.

The Arizona senator has been leading efforts in Congress in recent weeks to force Barack Obama to intervene in Syria following reports of alleged chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Assad.

As the most senior US politician to have visited Syria, his intervention is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington at a time when parallel efforts are being made by the French and British governments to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

At the same time, actual US Secretary of State John Kerry was working toward a different goal than loud-mouthed Obama critic McCain.

Meanwhile the US State Department continues to pursue diplomatic efforts to bring the civil war to an end, successfully encouraging the Russians to persuade Assad to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month.

Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, secretary of state John Kerry flew into Paris on Monday to see Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.

No word yet on any reactions from the Obama administration to McCain’s attempt to influence its foreign policy decisions.

The EU is also pushing for intervention in Syria. CNN reports:

The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syrian rebels Monday, a move that could level the playing field and alter the course of Syria’s gruesome civil war.

While there are no immediate plans to ship weapons to rebels, the move sends a strong message to Syria’s defiant president: Negotiate or face consequences.

“It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a written statement.

“It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”

SCOTUS

In domestic news, CNN calls attention to the important rulings that could come from the Supreme Court in June.

Four weeks. Four major legal rulings. What the Supreme Court decides by the end of June could fundamentally change lives and legacies on a range of politically explosive issues.
The justices will meet in at least five public sessions to release opinions in its remaining 30 cases, among them some the most strongly-contested legal and social issues they have confronted in decades:

– Same-sex marriage: A pair of appeals testing whether gays and lesbian couples have a fundamental constitutional right to wed.

– Affirmative action: May race continue to be used as a factor in college admissions, to achieve classroom diversity?

– Voting rights: The future of the Voting Rights Act, and continued federal oversight of elections in states with a past history of discrimination.

– Gene patents: Can “products of nature” like isolated parts of the human genome be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies, through government-issued patents?

For more detailed summaries of these cases from CNN, click here.

“It’s almost unimaginable the number of things that the Supreme Court is going to decide that will affect all Americans in the next month,” said Thomas Goldstein, a top Washington attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.

“What would surprise me this term is if the court upheld use of affirmative action or the (enforcement tool behind the) Voting Rights Act. And I think it would be a big surprise if the court did anything radical when it came to same-sex marriage — either saying there was a constitutional right to it, or rejecting that claim outright and forever. I think that’s something they’re going to try and tread that middle ground path.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish a right to vote for every American citizen.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

After investigating the issue, Pocan said he and Ellison decided this type of amendment was the best way to combat measures to restrict voting access.

“Essentially, what it would do is it would put the burden on any of these states that try to make laws that are more restrictive that they would have to prove that they’re not disenfranchising a voter. Rather than, currently, where a voter has to prove they’ve somehow been wronged by a state measure,” said Pocan.

Of course that’s pretty much pie in the sky considering how difficult it is to pass a Constitutional amendment and get it approved by three-quarters of state legislatures.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison

deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to a radiation leak, The Associated Press has learned.

The California Democrat obtained a 2004 internal letter written by a senior Southern California Edison executive that she said “leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” to avoid a potentially long and costly review of four replacement steam generators before they went into service.

The twin-domed plant between Los Angeles and San Diego hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusually rapid wear inside hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water in the nearly new generators….

The letter [to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators] goes to a central issue at San Onofre, where Edison is seeking federal permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power in an effort to halt tube damage.

The replacement generators were different than the originals — they were far heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes, for example. Edison installed the equipment in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010 without an extended NRC review after concluding the new machines met a federal test to qualify as largely the same as the ones they replaced, requiring little or no changes to safety systems or components in the plant.

Just one more reminder that we have potential Fukushima disasters right here in the USA.

pressure-cooker

Police in Michigan are still freaking out over random pressure cookers after the common cooking utensils were used to make two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon in April.

Police in Dearborn are trying to understand why a pressure cooker was left in the restroom of the Adoba Hotel, forcing the evacuation of guests until the early morning hours.

The evacuation also canceled Sunday night’s banquet of the University of Muslim Association of America….

The pressure cooker discovered at the hotel was detonated by police as a precaution, but contained no explosives.

Dearborn officers have determined that the pressure cooker had not been converted into any type of explosive device.

Meanwhile a Saudi man, Hussain Al Khawahir, is still in jail after being arrested at the Detroit airport for having a pressure cooker in his luggage–reportedly a gift for his nephew whom he planned to visit in the US. Al Khwahir is scheduled to be in court today.

A lawyer for Hussain Al Khawahir, arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on May 11 after a pressure cooker was found in his baggage, filed a request for release on bond Monday.
Al Khawahir was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of carrying an altered passport and making conflicting statements to Customs and Border Patrol agents about the pressure cooker….

Defense attorney James Howarth in the request for bond claimed Al Khawahir, a 33-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was carrying one valid passport and one expired passport that contained a visa stamp for his entry to the U.S.

He also argued that the two statements Al Khawahir made about the pressure cooker were not much different.

(Read the motion here .)

“The passport that was purportedly ‘altered’ was the expired document,” Howarth wrote.

Zimmerman

We’re getting closer to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. From The Orlando Sentinel:

SANFORD – With just two weeks remaining before his trial, George Zimmerman’s attorneys returned to court this morning for what may be his last pre-trial hearing, a session that could turn into a marathon with his attorneys asking for a trial delay and that an especially-damaging state audio expert be banned from testifying.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will be asked to decide a long list of other issues, things that will determine how the trial plays out and what jurors will see and hear.

For example, defense attorney Mark O’Mara has asked that she take jurors to the scene of the shooting, a middle- to working-class gated townhouse community on Sanford’s west side where Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His second-degree murder trial is to begin June 10.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday also will ask the judge to keep jurors’ names a secret, something prosecutors are not expected to oppose.

Read more at the link. I guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to the publicly expressed racism that is likely to be unleashed during the trial.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Please post your recommended reads in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Wednesday Evening Reads: Boxer steps up for women and Romney steps back on Blunt

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Good Evening

There have been destructive storms throughout the midwest, watch out they may be heading your way.

Massive storm system claims 9 lives in Midwest, heads east – CNN.com

A powerful storm system, which left a trail of destruction and nine deaths in its wake across the Midwest, moved Wednesday evening into the Mid-Atlantic region, putting more communities at risk.

The storms first hit before dawn, with one tornado packing 170 mph winds as it smashed Harrisburg, Illinois, killing six. A smaller tornado caused significant damage in the music resort city of Branson, Missouri.

Nearly 200 people were hurt, authorities said Wednesday.

We are expecting bad weather here in Banjoland, I can hear the distant rumbling…

More activity was possible in northern Alabama, extreme northern Georgia, southern and eastern Kentucky, northern Mississippi, western North Carolina and much of Tennessee, according to CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.

So this is going to be a short post, the electricity goes out so easy here…with so many trees, if one large branch falls in the wind it can create a domino effect.

I am so disgusted with Democrats who act like republicans, Sen. Manchin will vote for Blunt amendment on contraceptive care – The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will vote for Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment on the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“While I would have preferred that both sides would have come together around a solution like we had in West Virginia, I am voting in favor of this measure to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America,” Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin also notes that in his home state, West Virginia law requires contraceptive coverage but also guarantees “religious freedom for employers or institutions that object to such services.” The law requires health insurance companies to also provide contraceptive care but exempts religious institutions that object based on “religious tenets.”

He must not have listened to Boxer’s speech today:

msnbc video: Democrats attack GOP war on women

…it is pure partisan politics and we are here today to say it is not going to pass. the right wing of the republican party does not speak for most of the women in this country.

She kicked ass today on the floor…I have tried to find a video clip of her…but couldn’t.

Romney stuck his foot in it again, first he comes out against Blunt and then he is for it.  Romney comes out against `Blunt-Rubio’ – The Plum Line – The Washington Post

I just got off the phone with Heath, and he graciously played me the audio. Heath asks Romney if he’s for the “Blunt-Rubio” amendment, and defines it. Romney replies:

“I’m not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”

That’s pretty remarkable. If Romney knew what he was saying, the Senate GOP caucus, which is set to vote on this amendment tomorrow, may feel as if Romney has pulled the rug out from underneath them. And this has become an important issue for conservatives. So it’ll be interesting to see how the base reacts to this, particularly since the GOP primary is anything but over and Rick Santorum — who’s perceived as a more reliable social conservative — is likely to use this to attack Romney, who will be under continued pressure to connect with social and religious conservatives.

Then, as usual, he backtracked his comment.

UPDATE II: It’s not clear which bill Romney opposes. It was described to him as “Blunt-Rubio,” which is a term some use to refer to the Blunt amendment, because Rubio co-sponsored. But the bill was described to Romney more narrowly, in keeping with another Rubio amendment that just focuses on contraception. The question is what Romney was opposing when he said, “I’m not for the bill.”

UPDATE III: The Romney camp now says he’s for it:

“Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing,” a spokesman told TPM. “Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.”

I guess the question was a bit convoluted, as the Blunt Amendment and the Rubio version are worded a bit differently .

However, it still does not excuse the fact that Romney is an ass.

One more link for you. It is a very good piece about the number of women writing, or lack of women writing, for the news media: Do Women Count?

Here is the answer.

Apparently, not in the news media.

Yesterday, after I made some snarky comment, a friend asked me if I was Eeyore. The truth is, I’m a mash-up of Eeyore and Tigger. Tigger bounces up and down gleefully whenever I talk about gay rights. But today I’m talking about the ladies again, so get ready for Eeyore.

The online magazine VIDA just released its count of female::male bylines in influential literary and political outlets—”thought leader” magazines, as they’re called. The numbers are absolutely dismal. In The New Yorker and The Atlantic, there are nearly three male bylines to one female. In The New Republic, the byline ratio is four to one. In Harper’s, it’s five to one.

VIDA’s introduction and its press release say nice cheerful things, like, “But we at VIDA aren’t discouraged by this fact—we know that significant cultural change takes time.”

But time isn’t making significant changes. Well, okay, in 2005, the Columbia Journalism Review found that the byline ratio in The New Yorker was 3.5 to one, and in The Atlantic it was six to one, so yes, things have inched up a bit. (In The Atlantic, though, consider which women are writing. As Caryl Rivers notes in her dead-on analysis called “The Atlantic’s Woman Problem,” “The leitmotif of much of what the Atlantic publishes about women is that female gains are dangerous—to children, to families, to marriages, to themselves, and to men.” I have a great editor at The Atlantic Online who has assigned me some very interesting stories. But she’s female—and outnumbered.) But women actually make up more than 50 percent of English literature and journalism school graduates. We’re not talking about Larry Summers’ leaky science pipeline here. We’re talking about the subject at which girls are, stereotypically, supposed to be outstanding, and where they concentrate in high numbers: reading and writing.

Please…I encourage you to read the rest of this article by EJ Graff. In this anti-woman environment, her article really makes a point about the attitude  women have been fighting against for years, and the lack of progress we have made…depressing but needs to be said.

Have a safe evening, and be aware of any serious weather that might be heading your way!


Left Out of the “Furor” over the Contraception Rule: WOMEN

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says it very well. Surprise!! She’s a woman! She knows whereof she speaks. From Care 2:

Sens. Gillibrand and Boxer, along with seven Democratic senators and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are appealing to backers on all of their websites to sign on to the “One Million Strong For Women” in hopes of harnessing this energy and using it to make a strong defense for women’s rights.

Sen. Gillibrand made the pitch to supporters in an email. “Our opponents tried to defund Planned Parenthood, in the federal budget and in many states. They tried to destroy our Medicare and Medicaid lifelines, which would be particularly devastating to women,” the email says. “They tried to get the Susan G. Komen Foundation to cut off support for Planned Parenthood.”

Two male Senators, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined with Gillibrand, Boxer, and Patty Murray to stand up for women’s autonomy and control over their own bodies.

Weighing in the side of those who know nothing about being a woman and fighting for the freedom to decide when and how to have children, Vice President Joe Biden:

In his first public comments on the decision, Biden told Cincinnati radio station WLW that he is “determined to see that this gets worked out, and I believe we can work it out.”

Biden, the nation’s first Catholic vice president, was among the top aides who had warned President Barack Obama that the decision could be politically explosive, particularly with Catholics, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

“As a practicing Catholic, I am of the view that this can be worked out and should be worked out. And I know the president feels the same way,” Biden said.

Work what out Joe? A way to let Catholic Bishops control American women’s choices about their own bodies? STFU, Joe. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

John Boehner opened his big fat mouth too:

“If the president does not reverse the [Health and Human Services] Department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said in a rare floor speech.

“In imposing this requirement, the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries. And it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions.”

Oh really? Well, you are full of sh&t, John. You have no idea what you’re talking about. This is not about the First Amendment. It’s about women’s access to health care. STFU, John.

The same goes for Chris Matthews, Mark Shields, E.J. Dionne, Mike Barnicle, Joe Scarborough, and all the rest of the male punditry who seem to believe they have the right to control women’s choices and their access to basic health care. STFU!! Go find something useful to do and butt out of American women’s lives!

Most of all, the Catholic Bishops and the other fundamentalist religious fanatics who insist on pontificating on issues that affect women’s bodies need to STFU! Hey, I have an idea! How about doing something about the abuse of children by the clergy?

It’s time for women and the men who support them to do the talking. It’s time for men who think they own women and rule their health care choices to listen for a change.