Thursday Reads: Halloween History and A Little News

black-cat

Happy Halloween Everyone!!

Last year at this time, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and this year a lesser but still “Monstrous Halloween storm” will “pelt the central US” from Texas up to the Midwest. My mom said authorities in Indiana have moved the official day for trick-or-treating to the weekend. Towns in Kentucky and Ohio are doing the same thing, according to USA Today.

Torrential rain, heavy thunderstorms and howling winds are forecast on Halloween all the way from Texas to the Midwest and interior sections of the Northeast, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Andy Mussoline.

Almost 42 million people could contend with severe thunderstorms Thursday, the Storm Prediction Center warns, with cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville and Houston all at risk.

“Damaging winds and some tornadoes will be possible with what should be a complex and potentially messy storm,” according to an online forecast from the prediction center.

“The best costume in Houston for Halloween probably involves a garbage bag to keep dry,” reports WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue, who adds that it could be the wettest Halloween ever in some spots.

Read more at the link.

I have a few articles on the Halloween history and traditions for you. From National Geographic: Halloween 2013: Top Costumes, History, Myths, More.

Halloween’s origins date back more than 2,000 years. On what we consider November 1, Europe’s Celtic peoples celebrated their New Year’s Day, called Samhain (SAH-win).

On Samhain eve—what we know as Halloween—spirits were thought to walk the Earth as they traveled to the afterlife. Fairies, demons, and other creatures were also said to be abroad.

In addition to sacrificing animals to the gods and gathering around bonfires, Celts often wore costumes—probably animal skins—to confuse spirits, perhaps to avoid being possessed, according to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.

By wearing masks or blackening their faces, Celts are also thought to have impersonated dead ancestors.

Young men may have dressed as women and vice versa, marking a temporary breakdown of normal social divisions.

In an early form of trick-or-treating, Celts costumed as spirits are believed to have gone from house to house engaging in silly acts in exchange for food and drink—a practice inspired perhaps by an earlier custom of leaving food and drink outdoors as offerings to supernatural beings.

Samhain was later co-opted by the Catholic Church when the Church moved “All Saints Day” from May to November 1. Scots-Irish immigrants brought Halloween customs with them to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Award-winning_jack_o'_lantern

The History Channel has a more detailed article on the history of Halloween:

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

On Halloween traditions in the US:

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats.

jack o lanterns1

In Europe jack-o-lanterns were made of turnips and other vegetables, since pumpkins were found only in the Americas. On the custom of “trick or treating” in the US:

The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

A few more interesting links to explore:

National Geographic: First Halloween Costumes: Skins, Skulls, and Skirts

The Boston Globe: Seven Books About the History of Halloween

Deseret News: Halloween trivia: From top costumes to carving turnips instead of pumpkins

Washington Post: It’s time to take the sexy out of Halloween and return the holiday to kids

Amanda Hess at Slate: It’s Irony, not sexy, that’s ruining Halloween

Amanda Marcotte at Raw Story: Obligatory Halloween Post On Skimpy Costumes

in other news2

In other news . . . 

In the wake of the Travon Martin killing, Sanford FL has banned neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns.

SANFORD — More than a year and a half after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the city of Sanford is making major changes to its neighborhood watch program, including banning volunteers from carrying guns while on patrol, and forbidding them from pursuing anyone in their neighborhoods.

Sanford’s new police chief, Cecil Smith, said the neighborhood watch program as it was operated while Zimmerman was part of it was dysfunctional and had no accountability.

“In this program, it is clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual,” Smith explained. “In this new program, it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm when performing your duties as a neighborhood watch captain or participant.”

Smith said when he took over as Sanford’s chief of police in April, the neighborhood watch program Zimmerman was part of was still operating the same way it was when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin more than a year earlier.

Sounds like an excellent idea.

The NSA is “firing back” after an article in the Washington Post claimed that the spy agency “infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide.” From Politico:

The program, exposed through Edward Snowden’s leaks, relied on a broad, decades-old executive orderand allowed the NSA access to data-center connections in secret outside the United States, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story. Asked about the leak, Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s leader, said earlier Wednesday he was unaware of the Post’s report — adding the NSA is “not authorized” to access companies data centers and instead must “go through a court process” to obtain such content.

The NSA, meanwhile, emphasized it hadn’t tried to circumvent U.S. law under the executive order, known by its numerical designation, 12333. “The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true,” a spokeswoman said. But the NSA aide declined to discuss further whether the agency — perhaps under other authorities — had infiltrated data center connections at all.

Google and Yahoo both told the Post it hadn’t granted the NSA access to its data centers. Both companies did not immediately comment for this story.

Based on past history of Glenn Greenwald and other reporters neglecting to report that NSA surveillance requires individual warrants, I’m going to assume that this is another instance of this kind of melodramatic “reporting.” I guess it will all come out eventually, since Congress is now investigating and the drip drip drip of leaks continues.

Meanwhile, “progressives” who are panicking over NSA spying continue to ignore vitally important issues that affect millions of Americans–poverty and hunger for examples. From MSNBC: America’s new hunger crisis.

In the 22 years that Swami Durga Das has managed New York’s River Fund Food Pantry, he has never seen hunger like this. Each Saturday, hundreds of hungry people descend on the pantry’s headquarters, an unassuming house on a residential block. The first people arrive around 2 am, forming a line that will wrap around the block before Das even opens his doors.

“Each week there’s new people,” Das told MSNBC.com. “The numbers have just skyrocketed.”

The new clients are diverse—working people, seniors, single mothers—but many of them share something in common: they represent the millions of Americans who fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn’t benefit from the economic recovery.

And the worst may be yet to come.

Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.

“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then, because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”

Please go read the whole thing.

Finally, here’s an interesting article about Ted Cruz by David Denby of The New Yorker: THE MASK OF SINCERITY.

When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens. Cruz has large ears; a straight nose with a fleshy tip, which shines in camera lights when he talks to reporters; straight black hair slicked back from his forehead like flattened licorice; thin lips; a long jaw with another knob of flesh at the base, also shiny in the lights. If, as Orwell said, everyone has the face he deserves at fifty, Cruz, who is only forty-two, has got a serious head start. For months, I sensed vaguely that he reminded me of someone but I couldn’t place who it was. Revelation has arrived: Ted Cruz resembles the Bill Murray of a quarter-century ago, when he played fishy, mock-sincere fakers. No one looked more untrustworthy than Bill Murray. The difference between the two men is that the actor was a satirist.

Cruz is not as iconographically satisfying as other American demagogues—Oliver North, say, whose square-jawed, unblinking evocation of James Stewart, John Wayne, and other Hollywood actors conveyed resolution. Or Ronald Reagan—Cruz’s reedy, unresonant voice lacks the husky timbre of Reagan’s emotion-clouded instrument, with its mixture of truculence and maudlin appeal.

Yet Cruz is amazingly sure-footed verbally. When confronted with a hostile question, he has his answer prepared well before the questioner stops talking. There are no unguarded moments, no slips or inadvertent admissions. He speaks swiftly, in the tones of sweet, sincere reason. How could anyone possibly disagree with him? His father is a Baptist, and Cruz himself has an evangelical cast to his language, but he’s an evangelical without consciousness of his own sins or vulnerability. He is conscious only of other people’s sins, which are boundless, and a threat to the republic; and of other people’s vulnerabilities and wounds, which he salts. If they have a shortage of vulnerabilities, he might make some up.

Read the rest at the link.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? And what are you doing to celebrate Halloween? Please let us know in the comment thread.


Open Thread: George Zimmerman Reportedly Made Self-Incriminating Statements to Police

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda

Just short time ago, Reuters posted a story on the efforts of attorneys in the Trayvon Martin case to keep George Zimmerman’s statement to police under seal until the trial. The prosecution claims that Zimmerman made “self-incriminating statements to police” that could be used to demonstrate his guilt. According to the prosecution motion:

“Defendant (Zimmerman) has provided law enforcement with numerous statements, some of which are contradictory, and are inconsistent with the physical evidence and statements of witnesses,” the prosecutors said in their court filing.

They said the statements by Zimmerman were admissible in court and “in conjunction with other statements and evidence help to establish defendant’s guilt in this case.”

The court filing offered no details about the statements Zimmerman made to police or other law enforcement officials. It said Florida’s public records law had no provision requiring “the disclosure of a confession” of a defendant.

“The state asserts that this provision includes an admission of a defendant that could be used against him at trial,” the filing said.

Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, apparently agrees with the prosecution’s petition. Today he:

filed a seven-page document asking Judge Kenneth Lester for a 30-day period to review evidence in the case before it is made public.

O’Mara argued that some evidence the state has collected may be inadmissible and could inflame tensions in the racially charged controversy and jeopardize Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial.

Zimmerman gave at least five statements to police at different times. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda also requested that Zimmerman’s cell phone records remain sealed along with those of a friend of Trayvon Martin’s who was talking with him shortly before the shooting.


Breaking: Evidence in Trayvon Martin Case Released to Public

The prosecution evidence that was given to George Zimmerman’s defense last week was released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey’s office this afternoon. You can read the documents here.

Before the release, someone managed to get out a bit more information favorable to Zimmerman, specifically the fact that Trayvon Martin had traces of THC in his blood and urine when he was killed. From CNN:

Martin’s blood contained THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to an autopsy conducted February 27 — the day after the teenager was shot dead.

Toxicology tests found elements of the drug in the teenager’s chest blood — 1.5 nanograms per milliliter of one type (THC), as well as 7.3 nanograms of another type (THC-COOH) — according to the medical examiner’s report. There was also a presumed positive test of cannabinoids in Martin’s urine. It was not immediately clear how significant these amounts were.

Concentrations of THC routinely rise to 100 to 200 ng/ml after marijuana use, though it typically falls to below 5 ng/ml within three hours of it being smoked, according to information on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

While some states have zero-tolerance policies for any drug traces for driving while impaired, others set certain benchmarks, the website of California’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs notes. In Nevada, that equates to 2 ng/ml for THC and 5 ng/ml for THC-COOH — also known as marijuana metabolite. The cutoff level in Ohio is 2 ng/ml for THC and 50 ng/ml for THC-COOH.

THC is detectable for weeks and sometimes longer after use, so it doesn’t sound like this is a big deal. Leaked information from his school file had already revealed that Trayvon had be caught with a plastic bag containing pot residue. The fact that a 17-year-old smoked pot is not exactly an earthshaking revelation, although I’m sure the defense will make much of it.

The autopsy also showed that he was shot from “intermediate range.” From Fox News:

Dr. Michael Baden, the former New York City medical examiner, said “intermediate” in such cases is defined as the muzzle of the gun being one to 18 inches away from the entry point when fired.

“If the muzzle is right against the skin, that’s a contact wound,” Baden said. Anything beyond 18 inches is considered “distant” range in coroner’s parlance, Baden said.

The only other injury to Trayvon’s body was a small cut on his “left ring finger below the knuckle, 1/8 to 1/4 inch long.

I plan to read as much of the evidence as I can, but for now there are several summaries available in the media. The Miami Herald reports some witness statements:

Conflicting witnesses described agonizing calls for help, and some thought they heard two shots.

The witness statements include one eyewitness who said he saw a man in a red shirt getting hit by someone else. When he returned for a second look, the man who was hitting the other was dead.

“I heard yelling out back in the grass area,” the unnamed witness said. “…I opened door and saw a guy on the ground getting hit by another man on top of him in a … position hitting a guy in a red sweatshirt or red top. I said I was calling the cops and ran upstairs then heard a gun shot. … The guy on top who was sitting the guy … layed out on the grass as he had been shot.”

Another witness saw a “broad man” on top hitting another. The evidence list shows Zimmerman wore a size 38. His shirt was red.

“First we heard like a howling sound. And then the second time we heard a more-clearly ‘help’ sound,” the witness said. “I know after seeing the TV of what’s happening — comparing their pictures — I think Zimmerman is definitely on top because of his size.”

According to The Orlando Sentinel, police said the “Encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin ‘avoidable,'”

Newly released evidence in the case against George Zimmerman shows that Sanford Police believed the encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was “ultimately avoidable,” if Zimmerman had “remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement,” according to hundreds of pages of evidence in the case released this afternoon.

The Sentinel article says that Trayvon had “a scratch on one hand” in addition to the small cut on his left ring finger. The article contains a more complete description of Trayvon’s girl friend’s report on their conversations.

An unnamed girl, the one identified by the Martin family attorney as Trayvon’s girlfriend, told Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda that she and Trayvon talked on the phone daily and had known each other since Kindergarten.

The girl told the prosecutor that she and Trayvon talked on and off as he went to the store to buy a snack. She said Trayvon told her he took shelter from the rain under an overhang while walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s home.

Minutes later, she said, Trayvon told her a white man in a vehicle was watching him. Trayvon started walking, and the call cut off, she said. When she called back, “he said he’s walking, and he said this man is still following him.”

The girl said Trayvon started running, “and then, he said he lost him [Zimmerman],” she said, adding that the teen’s “voice kind of changed… I could tell he was scared.” The girl said she told Trayvon to keep running, but “he said he ain’t gonna run. He said he’s right by his father’s house.”

“And in a couple minutes, he said a man’s following him again, he’s behind him,” she said. “I say, ‘run.'”

She said Trayvon was breathing hard. She said Trayvon asked “Why are you following me for?” and a man’s voice said, “What are you doing around here?” Then, she heard a noise and the call cut off.

Police found several blood spots on George Zimmerman’s shirt, but the blood was all Zimmerman’s.

ABC News, which has seemingly become the George Zimmerman support network, concludes that all the evidence supports Zimmerman’s story. Based on ABC’s reporting, you have to wonder why Angela Corey even bothered to charge Zimmerman with a crime.

According to ABC, Trayvon Martin’s father told an investigator that the voice calling for help on a witness’s 911 tape was not his son. That will certainly be problematic for the prosecution, although the mother swears the voice was Trayvon’s.

A couple of other bits of news related to the case.

TPM reports that contributions to Zimmerman’s defense fund have slowed down.

Late Wednesday, Zimmerman’s defense team said he had only been able to raise about $15,000 since the new site went live on May 3. The biggest donation was $3,000, they said, while most ranged between $25 and $100.

While that still averages more than $1,000 a day, it’s a far cry from the rate Zimmerman was hauling in on his own.

The Smoking Gun has obtained a letter that George Zimmerman wrote to a supporter while he was in jail. Here’s the money quote:

Days before bonding out of a Florida jail, George Zimmerman wrote that he believed “this will all work out for me in the future,” adding, “I have given my burden to the Lord and he has blessed me with tremendous patience!”

Well, goody for him.


Monday Evening Reads: Bill Clinton’s Advice, Romney and Rubio, George Zimmerman, and Stupid Republicans

Good Evening! It hasn’t been a particularly busy news day, but I have a few updates for you tonight.

According to Politico, the Obama campaign is changing it’s attacks on Mitt Romney based on some suggestions from Bill Clinton. The original approach was to paint Romney as a man without a moral or ideological “core.” Clinton, according to Politico argued that it would be better to focus on

Romney’s description of himself as a “severe conservative,” to deny him any chance to tack back to the center, according to three Democrats close to the situation.

“[Clinton] said he thought Romney’s positions on the issues would ultimately be the best way to attack him,” said a Democrat briefed on the details of an amiable Nov. 9 meeting in Clinton’s Harlem office that included Axelrod, Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.

“That’s what we are doing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t do the etch-a-sketch, flip-flop moments when they occur and we will,” added the operative — who says Obama’s campaign likely would have emphasized Romney’s conservative tilt once the primary was over, anyway.

But Clinton’s advice, buttressed by Benenson’s polling, has clearly gained traction internally since the end of Romney’s four-month primary ordeal.

Well, I can’t imagine a more expert political consultant than Bill Clinton, can you?

A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that the number of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico has been falling because of the lack of jobs in the U.S. NY Daily News:

Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday. It was the biggest sustained drop in modern history, believed to be surpassed in scale only by losses in the Mexican-born U.S. population during the Great Depression.

Much of the drop in illegal immigrants is due to the persistently weak U.S. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust. But increased deportations, heightened U.S. patrols and violence along the border also have played a role, as well as demographic changes, such as Mexico’s declining birth rate.

In all, the Mexican-born population in the U.S. last year — legal and illegal — fell to 12 million, marking an end to an immigration boom dating back to the 1970s, when foreign-born residents from Mexico stood at 760,000. The 2007 peak was 12.6 million.

The New York and Pennsylvania primaries will be held tomorrow, but there isn’t much excitement about them anymore. Other states voting tomorrow are Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

In Pennsylvania, Romney was campaigning with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Without overshadowing Romney, Rubio on Monday hammered home the former Massachusetts governor’s position on Iran and helped Romney attack President Barack Obama’s energy policy.

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Romney said he’d consider Rubio’s immigration proposal to find a way to allow young people who came to the country illegally as children to stay here if they’re in school or the military.

It sounds like the Obama campaign should get busy pinning Romney down on the cruel immigration policy he has been pushing throughout the primaries.

Romney also tried to appeal to younger voters by joining Obama in backing a bill to prevent doubling of student loan interest rates.

ASTON, Pa. — As the White House ramps up its push to woo young voters by urging Congress to head off a scheduled increase in student loan interest rates, GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney struck back Monday, throwing his support behind an extension of the current rates at a campaign event outside Philadelphia.

The former Massachusetts governor made the announcement at a press availability with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the first joint appearance of Romney and the Florida Republican whose name is often floated as a top choice for his running mate.

“There’s one thing that I wanted to mention, that I forgot to mention at the very beginning, and that was that particularly with the number of college graduates that can’t find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney said at the end of a seven-minute joint news conference with Rubio.

I have a few updates on the Trayvon Martin case. At one minute after midnight, George Zimmerman was let out of jail after posting bail. He will be going to a undisclosed location, reportedly outside of Florida.

Wherever George Zimmerman went after he was released on bond from a Florida jail, a sensitive GPS device will pinpoint his location for authorities and alert them if he drifts even a few feet away from where he is allowed.

Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, went into hiding Monday as he awaits trial. He must pay an $8-a-day fee to use the device, which is generally used to track people charged in domestic violence cases.

George Zimmerman leaves Seminole County Jail with unidentified man

According to the WaPo,

Local bail bondsmen whose clients have worn the same device used to pinpoint Zimmerman said it is highly sensitive and can send messages to authorities in real-time….

Seminole County Sheriff’s officials are offering few details on how Zimmerman will be specifically monitored, other than to say the device he is wearing has the same 24/7 capabilities it uses to track accused domestic violence offenders. Zimmerman may be residing outside of Florida for safety reasons.

The monitoring program has been in use since 2003 in Seminole and provides “real-time monitoring of an offender’s movements and is capable of monitoring anywhere in the U.S.,” according to a sheriff’s office news release.

Later this morning, Sanford, FL police chief Bill Lee, who has been on leave with pay, submitted his final resignation; but the move was rejected by the Sanford city commissioners at a hastily-called meeting.

Earlier Monday, the city announced in a statement that a separation agreement had been reached with Lee to resign. If it was approved by the City Commission, it would have taken effect at midnight.

But by a 3-2 vote, the commission opted not to accept the proposed deal, which would have permanently dismissed Lee from the job and given him a severance package. Two commissioners had questioned the fairness of Lee losing his job, while Mayor Jeff Triplett said he preferred to wait possibly several months for the results of an investigation into Lee and his department….

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Martin’s family, criticized the commission for not letting Lee step down.

“Sanford residents deserve quality leadership in law enforcement who will handle investigations fairly for all people,” he said. “If Chief Bill Lee recognized that his resignation would help start the healing process in Sanford, city leadership should have accepted it in an effort to move the city forward.”

Sanford City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte had supported the resignation.

Benjamin Crump also criticized George Zimmerman and his defense attorneys over a photo of Zimmerman’s head with two small cuts with blood coming out of them.

An attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family believes their son’s shooter is lying about injuries he sustained the night he killed the unarmed 17-year-old.

“If this is any indication of what’s to come, then the lying has already begun,” attorney Ben Crump told reporters on Sunday, while promoting a documentary at the Florida Film Festival on another case….

“When you look at those pictures and you see those two little cuts on his head, that is not consistent with your head being pounded into the pavement,” said Crump. “Objective evidence, evidence we can see and touch, is more important than whatever George Zimmerman says because we have to remember Trayvon Martin isn’t here to tell us his version of what happened.”

Crump pointed to the 911 call where someone is heard screaming before the fatal gunshot.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, but Texas Sen. John Cornyn says that Democrats are just trying to ‘score cheap political points.’ with their efforts to renew the bill.

Republicans oppose the current reauthorization bill because it would allow battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas, and expand protections to same sex couples and Native American tribes.

All eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against renewing the law and Democrats were quick to denounce them, linking their opposition to the bill to the so-called “war on women.”

“The law was enacted to protect and serve the interests of crime victims, not to help a political party fire up its base,” Cornyn continue. “Moreover, to argue that a minor policy disagreement indicates a lack of sensitivity toward battered women is simply beyond the pale.”

In Missouri, a Republican woman who is running for the senate against current Sen. Claire McCaskill says she is “not sure” what the Violence Against Women Act is.

Former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a Republican now hoping to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), said recently that she was unfamiliar with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the landmark anti-domestic violence legislation whose re-authorization is now stalled in the Senate….

A video released today by the Missouri Democratic Party shows a man asking Steelman about VAWA at a campaign event. Steelman replies, “I’m not sure what that is because I’m not serving right now.” He asks again, “you haven’t really heard about it?” And she confirms, “no, not really.”

The John Edwards trial has been getting a lot of attention today too. Chris Cillizza calls it a “final public flogging.”

What stories have you been following today?


Friday Night Open Thread: Trayvon Martin Case Updates

Good Evening! The big news today is that Minkoff Minx is back home and resting after her surgery. She even managed to send off an e-mail to the rest of the administrators, so she might even be reading this–if so, hi there, Minx!

I have several updates on the Trayvon Martin case. The city of Sanford is preparing for the aftermath of the special prosecutor Angela Corey’s decision on whether or not she will order the arrest of George Zimmerman.

Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett said on Thursday that the city’s emergency management team has met regularly with the U.S Department of Justice to construct a plan. Officials said extra police officers and fire department officials are on standby. Neighboring agencies have also been asked to assist, if needed.

“You always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Triplett said. “We’re planning for the ‘what-if’ case scenario, and that would be to make sure that all of our citizens get the protection they pay their taxes for.”

The grand jury ordered by Governor Rick Scott is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 10, so Corey is expected to decide soon.

If she finds probable cause, Corey could direct-file the charges anytime or present evidence to a Seminole County grand jury, which was tentatively scheduled to meet on Tuesday. The grand jury could indict, ask to hear more evidence, or decline to indict.

Since the Stand Your Ground Law has been invoked by Zimmerman, even if charges are filed, a judge could review the case and grant immunity, thus dismissing the charges.

Corey previously stated that she may not need the grand jury. I’ll be honest: I just have a gut feeling that she will decline to charge Zimmerman. I hope I’m wrong, but Corey is known for charging juvenile offenders very harshly and trying them as adults. Last year, she charged a 12-year-old boy with first degree murder and ordered him tried as an adult in the death of his two-year-old brother. HuffPo reports that Corey

is known for her tough tactics aimed at locking up criminals for long sentences and making it difficult to negotiate light plea bargains.

Furthermore, 57-year-old Angela Corey has handled hundreds of homicide cases involving the justifiable use of deadly force – experience that could prove invaluable.

Angela Corey

On the other hand, they also report that Corey is exceedingly close to the Sheriff’s office and police. One colleague told HuffPo that she is “too close” to them.

Hal Uhrig

George Zimmerman has a new attorney who is a former police officer, now a criminal defense attorney, who has experience with the media. But that experience did not serve him well today when he suggested in a TV interview that Zimmerman may have suffered from “shaken baby syndrome” after Trayvon Martin supposedly bashed his head on the sidewalk. Except that the new attorney is now claiming his client’s head was bashed into the “ground.” (Just a side note: neither of Zimmerman’s attorneys has actually met him in person yet. They’ve only talked with him on the phone.)

Hal Uhrig, a lawyer and former Gainesville, Florida, police officer who recently joined Zimmerman’s defense team, cited in a TV interview the brain damage that can seriously injure or kill an infant.

His point, which has been made before, was that Zimmerman contends he shot Martin in self defense and feared for his life after the 17-year-old attacked him and began pounding his head into the concrete pavement of a gated community on a rainy evening in Sanford on February 26.

But Uhrig’s choice of words, and use of a recognized sign of child abuse to defend a 28-year-old man who killed a kid, seemed likely to raise more than just a few eyebrows.

“We’re familiar with the Shaken Baby Syndrome,” said Uhrig on the CBS This Morning program. “You shake a baby, the brain shakes around inside the skull. You can die when someone’s pounding your head into the ground.”

Shaken baby syndrome can occur in very young infants because their skulls are still soft, they aren’t yet in control of their neck and limbs, and their heads are very large in proportion to their bodies. Adults can obviously suffer serious head trauma leading to internal bleeding and death, but if EMT’s believed that had happened to Zimmerman they would have insisted he be transported to a hospital.

One of Uhrig’s first actions after taking the job was to get rid of Zimmerman’s “friend” Joe Oliver (now being called a “media adviser”), who made innumerable embarrassing media appearances in which presented a number of inconsistent explanations of what supposedly happened the night of the shooting.

A group of about 40 Florida college students have organized a 3-day march from Daytona Beach to Sanford (41 miles), Florida to demand racial equality in honor of Trayvon Martin. The march is “modeled after the historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.”

They call themselves the Dream Defenders. The march began earlier today.

The campaign began at Daisy Stocking Park and will conclude on April 9 at Sanford City Hall. During the march, students will be stopping every two hours and receiving training. They will also work on developing a strategy to launch a larger youth movement to address racial inequalities. Their first stop is the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center for a prayer vigil and speakout. You can track the group as they march on their website.

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and police officers in Daytona Beach, DeLand and Orange City are coordinating and will be helping with traffic control to make sure the students are safe while crossing busy highways.

Vanessa Baden, a 2007 alumna of Florida State, flew in from Los Angeles to attend the march on behalf of Dream Defenders. She said the purpose of the march is to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman and the investigation of the process of law enforcement following the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

“What we’re not trying to do is try Zimmerman in the court of public opinion. We get that there’s a process in this,” Baden said. “We’ll be patient with the process if they allow the process to begin.”

The group expects other college students to join the march along the way. Good for them. I know darn well if Martin Luther King were still alive, he would be there too.

Unfortunately, a group of “armed neo-Nazis” is already in Sanford, supposedly to help in riot control after Angela Corey makes her decision.

Neo-Nazis are currently conducting heavily armed patrols in and around Sanford, Florida and are “prepared” for violence in the case of a race riot. The patrols are to protect “white citizens in the area who are concerned for their safety” in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting last month, says Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement. “We are not advocating any type of violence or attacks on anybody, but we are prepared for it,” he says. “We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over.”

Because nothing diffuses racial tension like gun-toting racial separatists patrolling an already on-edge community.

Lots of audio “experts” are still analyzing Zimmerman’s initial 911 tape to see if he used word “coons” in a whispered utterance. CNN’s expert claims Zimmerman said “fucking cold.” Another expert says it was “fucking punks.”

In addition, I found this slowed down tape of the 911 call by a witness. It was posted by a self-described “audio person.” You can hear screams for help in the background, then a gunshot, and another sound after the shot. It sounded like a scream after the gunshot to me.

NBC has fired a producer who edited the Zimmerman 911 tape and played the edited version on the Today Show as if it were the original.

The person was fired on Thursday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters. They also declined to name the fired producer. A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment.

The action came in the wake of an internal investigation by NBC News into the production of the segment, which strung together audio clips in such a way that made George Zimmerman’s shooting of Mr. Martin sound racially motivated. Ever since the Feb. 26 shooting, there has been a continuing debate about whether race was a factor in the incident.

The segment in question was shown on the “Today” show on March 27. It included audio of Mr. Zimmerman saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

But Mr. Zimmerman’s comments had been taken grossly out of context by NBC. On the phone with a 911 dispatcher, he actually said of Mr. Martin, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” Then the dispatcher asked, “O.K., and this guy — is he white, black or Hispanic?” Only then did Mr. Zimmerman say, “He looks black.”

Obviously, the editing was misleading, but I actually think the real 911 tape sounds worse and more racially biased. JMNSHO.

Family and friends of George Zimmerman are starting a website to raise funds for his defense and his living expenses. The reporter, Frances Robles says that Zimmerman has suffered “weeks of withering media coverage lambasting him and his supporters…” I’d say the lambasting of Trayvon Martin has been even more “withering,” but of course he no longer has “living expenses,” because George Zimmerman shot and killed him. But what do I know? Poor George….

Robles also notes that Zimmerman has attract some troubling supporters

such as white supremacists and the Rev. Terry Jones, the Gainesville pastor who announced last year plans to burn the Quran and now plans to hold a rally for Zimmerman. Gun ownership advocacy groups have also announced intentions to contribute $10,000 towards Zimmerman’s defense.

But one of Martin’s attorneys points out that

“It’s a PR strategy, a propaganda campaign,” said Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Trayvon’s parents. “His friends and family are doing him a big disservice by race-baiting. They are trying to divide a jury. Frank Taaffe, Joe Oliver, everybody gets up there and says, ‘George Zimmerman is not a racist.’ That’s not what we’re talking about.

“We’re talking about whether he was justified in taking Trayvon Martin’s life.”

I agree with Jackson that the racism issue is a red herring. It’s up to the FBI to decide whether this was a hate crime or not. But Zimmerman needs to be arrested and charged. Then he can plead his case for self-defense to a judge and jury instead of the media.

Feel free to discuss any topic on this thread. I decided to focus on the Martin case because there was so much news coming out today on it, and it has otherwise been a pretty slow news day because of the upcoming christian holiday.


Tuesday Reads: Wisconsin Recall, Willard on the Defensive, SCOTUS, Another School Shooting, and Trayvon Martin Updates

Tea and Scones, by Kristine Diehl

Good Morning!!

Today is the Wisconsin primary, but there isn’t much suspense. It looks like Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, even though no one really likes him. I guess Romney wants the job so bad, he doesn’t care that that he’s basically a laughing stock. [UPDATE: Maryland and the District of Columbia also hold their primaries today.]

Yesterday, Romney was asked some uncomfortable questions at a Town Hall meeting in Howard, Wisconsin. One man, a Ron Paul supporter, asked Romney whether he agreed with Mormon Church scriptures that say interracial marriage is sinful. Romney became visibly upset.

The questioner, Bret Hatch, 28, a local supporter of Rep. Ron Paul’s, read from typed notes as he asked Romney whether he agreed with a verse from Moses 7:8 from the “Pearl of Great Price.” As he began citing the verse, Romney interrupted: “I’m sorry, we’re just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view. But if you have a question, I’ll be happy to answer your question.”

Hatch asked his question. “If you become president,” he asked, “do you believe it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?”

“No,” Romney said. “Next question.”

Then another person asked Romney “about his ability to connect to average Americans.” Romney then cited his experience as a church leader in the Boston area.

“That gave me the occasion to work with people on a very personal basis that were dealing with unemployment, with marital difficulties, with health difficulties of their own and with their kids,”

He then claimed that he is running for President because he wants to help people like that.

The big excitement in Wisconsin isn’t about the primary, but about the recall of Governor Scott Walker.

For Wisconsinites, the most important political news of the season came Friday, when the state’s Government Accountability Board announced that the effort to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker had amassed enough valid signatures to force an election June 5. It will be the first such election in state history, and if Wisconsin votes out Walker, he will be only the third sitting governor in U.S. history to be recalled, joining North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921 and California’s Gray Davis in 2003.

The precipitating event was Walker’s quick move, upon taking office, to reward the 1 percent with a tax cut while asking the 99 percent to sacrifice. He didn’t campaign on his antipathy for public unions. Yet within his first few weeks as governor, Walker declared war on public-sector workers (except for police and firefighters, many of whom supported his candidacy), cutting benefits, limiting pay increases and sharply curtailing collective bargaining rights, even after the unions agreed to many of his demands.

Minx wrote about the horrible SCOTUS decision that came out yesterday, but I wanted to give you a little background on the case they heard. This decision is shocking, IMO.

Albert Florence, his wife and little boy were on their way to his parents’ home in 2005, when they were pulled over by a state trooper. Mrs. Florence was at the wheel, but the trooper’s roadside state records check showed a seven-year-old outstanding arrest warrant for Albert Florence for failing to pay a fine. Florence said he had paid the fine, and pulled out a receipt, which he kept in the car. But the trooper said there was nothing he could do. Florence was handcuffed and taken to the local county jail.

The state would later admit it had failed to properly purge the arrest warrant, but at the time of the arrest, the error turned into a “nightmare,” Florence said. He was held in jail for seven days and strip-searched twice.

Florence said the experience “petrified” and “humiliated” him. Upon entering the jail, he was ordered to take a delousing shower, then inspected by a guard who was about “an arm’s distance” away and instructed Florence to squat, cough and lift up his genitals.

If that isn’t an unreasonable search, I don’t know what would be. But five “conservative” justices think it’s just fine for law enforcement officials to strip search people even for minor offenses. This will surely have the effect of frightening people away from being involved in peaceful political protests.

Occupy and political protesters beware. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday held that local police can strip-search anyone who is arrested for minor offenses if they are to be held within the jail’s general population before being released.

The 5-4 decision, with the Court’s conservative majority overruling its four moderates, is a further erosion of the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unlawful search and seizure. It overturns laws in 10 states that place limits on suspicionless strip-searches and upholds a technique used by some local police forces against Occupy protesters last fall, prompting protesters to sue.

Among the jurisdictions seeking expanded authority to strip-search anyone arrested were the City of Chicago, where the NATO summit will be held this May and where protests have been planned, as well as the state of North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention will be held in early September in Charlotte.

There was a school shooting at a Christian college in Oakland, California yesterday. Seven people were killed and three injured.

Police captured the suspected gunman inside an Alameda grocery store five miles away from the shooting site at Oikos University after he allegedly walked to the customer service counter and told employees, “I just shot some people.”

A law-enforcement source close to the investigation confirmed to The Chronicle that the suspect is 43-year-old One Goh of Oakland.

The suspect used a .45-caliber handgun, spraying a classroom with gunfire and firing additional shots as he ran out, said the source, who did not wish to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.

Goh had been a nursing student at Oikos University, located at 7850 Edgewater Road in East Oakland, and there was some kind of dispute that may have resulted in him getting kicked out of at least one class, the source said.

I have a number of Trayvon Martin links. I won’t quote extensively from them, but I’m still very interested in the case and want to pass on things that I’ve learned.

Some new recordings have come out that show that either George Zimmerman or police decided he didn’t need to go to the hospital after the shooting. If Zimmerman had actually had his head pounded on concrete multiple times, he would have had to be evaluated for a serious head injury, because sometimes you can have internal injuries or hemorrhaging that doesn’t show on the outside.

Trayvon Martin’s parents have formally requested that the Feds investigate whether Norman Wolfinger, the states attorney actually interfered with a police detective who wanted to arrest Zimmerman on the night of the shooting. But Wolfinger is denying that it ever happened. He didn’t deny it in a very nice way either.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, asked the Justice Department in a letter on Monday to investigate those reports. Though the letter reported the events without attribution, Crump told Reuters his information came from the media reports and he did not have independent verification….

“I am outraged by the outright lies contained in the letter by Benjamin Crump,” Wolfinger said. “I encourage the Justice Department to investigate and document that no such meeting or communication occurred.” [….]

Lynne Bumpus-Hooper, a spokesman for Wolfinger, said the state attorney never spoke with Lee on the night of the shooting. Instead Sanford police consulted that night with Kelly Jo Hines, the prosecutor on call, Bumpus-Hooper said. She declined to say what was discussed.

“Police officers can make an arrest at virtually any dadgum point they feel they have enough probable cause to make an arrest,” Bumpus-Hooper said. “They do not need our permission and they do not seek our permission.”

So who made that decision? The plot thickens.

Today FBI agents appeared in Sanford and began examining the area in which the shooting occurred, and reviewing evidence in a “parallel investigation” with the one being carried out by special prosecutor

The New York Times had an excellent review of Zimmerman’s evolving story about what happened on the night of February 26. If you’re at all interested in this case, be sure to read it. It’s very helpful.

Richard E.J. Escrow had an interesting think piece on the Trayvon Martin case. His conclusion comes from Bob Dylan’s song about the murder of Medgar Evers: Zimmerman is “only a pawn in their game.”

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school …
That the laws are with him, to protect his white skin
To keep up his hate, so he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in, but it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Escrow writes:

Whose game? As it turns out, the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws used to protect shooters like Zimmerman were written and promoted by ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. As the Center for Media and Democracy notes, the corporate-funded right wing group behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on worker rights is the same group that has promoted ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws all around the country.

You could put a thousand people on Neighborhood Watch and they’d never see the real threats to Zimmerman’s community. Those threats can’t be seen with the eye. The real threats are things like joblessness, financial insecurity, hunger, lack of medical care. They’re threats you can’t protect yourself from with a gun.

Shooters like George Zimmerman are the product of an economic system that benefits from misdirected fear and anger – emotions that are too often channeled into violence instead of peaceful change.

Here’s Dylan performing his song at a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1963.

Have a great day everyone! Now what’s on your reading list today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Most of the commentators seem to think it doesn’t look good for the health care bill. At SCOTUS Blog, there’s an index of yesterday’s coverage.

The New York Times editorial addresses the “test” the Supreme Court faces in their decision on this case.

In ruling on the constitutionality of requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.

The skepticism in the questions from the conservative justices suggests that they have adopted the language and approach of the insurance mandate’s challengers. But the arguments against the mandate, the core of the health care reform law, willfully reject both the reality of the national health care market and established constitutional principles that have been upheld for generations.

The Obama administration persuasively argues that the mandate is central to solving the crisis in America’s health care system, which leaves 50 million people uninsured and accounts for 17.6 percent of the national economy. The challengers contend that the law is an unlimited — and, therefore, unconstitutional — use of federal authority to force individuals to buy insurance, or pay a penalty.

That view wrongly frames the mechanism created by this law. The insurance mandate is nothing like requiring people to buy broccoli — a comparison Justice Antonin Scalia suggested in his exasperated questioning of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. Congress has no interest in requiring broccoli purchases because the failure to buy broccoli does not push that cost onto others in the system.

It’s really frightening to think of the possible implications of the justices overturning this law. Will the right wingers challenge Medicare and Social Security next? Dahlia Lithwick says the right wingers on the Court seem to want to return the country to “freedom” circa 1804.

The fight over Obamacare is about freedom. That’s what we’ve been told since these lawsuits were filed two years ago and that’s what we heard both inside and outside the Supreme Court this morning. That’s what Michele Bachmann* and Rick Santorum have been saying for months. Even people who support President Obama’s signature legislative achievement would agree that this debate is all about freedom—the freedom to never be one medical emergency away from economic ruin. What we have been waiting to hear is how members of the Supreme Court—especially the conservative majority—define that freedom. This morning as the justices pondered whether the individual mandate—that part of the Affordable Care Act that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty—is constitutional, we got a window into the freedom some of the justices long for. And it is a dark, dark place.

But the “conservative” justices, who are covered by government subsidized health insurance appear to think freedom means the right to let people die if they can’t pay for health care.

[Sonia] Sotomayor…pondering whether hospitals could simply turn away the uninsured, finally asks: “What percentage of the American people who took their son or daughter to an emergency room and that child was turned away because the parent didn’t have insurance—do you think there’s a large percentage of the American population who would stand for the death of that child if they had an allergic reaction and a simple shot would have saved the child?”

But we seem to want to be free from that obligation as well. This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

The quotes from Scalia and Kennedy in Lithwick’s piece are unbelievable. Please go read the rest at the link.

There were some bombshells in the Trayvon Martin case last night. ABC news obtained video of George Zimmerman arriving at the police station after he shot Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had no visual signs of injury, no bandages, no sign of grass stains on the back of his jacket, no sign of a broken nose, no blood on his nose or the back of his head.

Last night on MSNBC’s The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell spoke to the funeral director who prepared Martin’s body for burial. The funeral director saw no sign of damage to Martin’s knuckles or any other part of his body that would indicate he had been in a fight. The only damage this man observed was a gunshot wound to Martin’s chest.

O’Donnell also had as a guest Cheryl Brown, the mother of a 13-year-old boy who witnessed the shooting. He couldn’t see much, because it was getting dark, but the boy told the 911 dispatcher that he saw a man lying on the ground and another man standing over him. One of the men was crying out for help, and then there was a gunshot and the crying stopped.

Another issue that arose last night on both MSNBC’s The Ed Show was that the police report on the incident listed Trayvon Martin’s full name and address; yet police listed him as a John Doe for three days. When Sanford police finally informed Trayvon’s father that his son was dead, the man who came to the house was Chris Serino, the investigator whom we recently learned wanted to charge George Zimmerman with manslaughter on February 26, the night of the shooting. Serino told Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, that he (Serino) didn’t believe Zimmerman’s story.

I don’t have any links, as I write this late on Wednesday night. I will try to add them in the morning when news articles become available.

The autopsy on Trayvon Martin’s body will obviously be key in determining what happened that night, but the autopsy is currently under seal.

The autopsy on Trayvon Martin was performed by a medical examiner who works for the Volusia County government, and therefore Byron has been in the loop regarding the autopsy, which has not yet been released as the investigation into the killing is ongoing.

“In Florida when a death is being actively investigated by any agency … the autopsy information is shielded under the Florida public records law until the investigation becomes un-active, or inactive,” Byron told the IBTimes via phone Wednesday morning. “So in this case I think we can all agree this is an active death investigation, so what I need to do is refer all calls to the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville.”

The LA Times reported yesterday that: Black residents in Sanford, FL say they’re often harassed by police. Here’s one example from the article:

To many black residents of Sanford, the escalating national anger over how local police have handled the [Trayvon Martin] case reflects years of tension and frustration over their treatment by authorities.

Murray Jess, for one, can’t shake the memory of an evening two years ago, as he drove through Sanford at dusk, heading home after attending an art show with his fiance and his 14-year-old nephew.

A police cruiser began following Jess’ silver-gray 1996 Mercedes. Two unmarked police cars blocked the road in front of him, forcing Jess into a Pizza Hut parking lot. An officer got out of a van and pointed a video camera at the bewildered Jess as another officer, his hand on his gun, approached the car.

Jess asked the officer why he had been stopped. “He said, ‘We’ve had a lot of reports of these kinds of cars being stolen lately,’ ” said Jess, a black Sanford resident and business owner whose voice still shakes with rage.

I have several other news links for you on a variety of subjects that I’ll give you in what Minkoff Minx and Wonk the Vote call a “link dump.”

On Tuesday, Minx reported that a group led by Magic Johnson has purchased the LA Dodgers. The team has been in limbo for the past couple of years after the former owner, Frank McCourt went through an expensive divorce that drained his funds. Actually, McCourt really never had enough money to be the owner of an MLB team. The LA Times reports on Dodger fans’ reactions.

The Pope visited Cuba and met with Fidel Castro.

Pope Benedict called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and met with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro on Wednesday as he ended a trip in which he urged the communist island to change.

He also spoke at a public Mass in Havana’s sprawling Revolution Square where the Vatican said 300,000 people gathered to hear the 84-year-old pontiff.

In a trip laced with calls for change in Cuba, his last message was aimed at the United States, its longtime ideological foe, which for 50 years has imposed a trade embargo trying to topple the Caribbean island’s communist government.

Speaking in a departure ceremony at a rainy Havana airport, Benedict said Cuba could build “a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled,” but it was more difficult “when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.”

A terrible wildfire has been burning in Colorado. Authorities believe the fire was started by a “controlled burn.”

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper suspended prescribed burns used to mitigate fire danger on Wednesday after a controlled blaze apparently ignited a wildfire west of Denver that killed an elderly couple and destroyed some two dozen homes.

“Through this suspension, we intend to make sure that we have the procedures and protocols in place so that prescribed fire conditions and management requirements are understood and strictly followed,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

Although the origins of the so-called Lower North Fork Fire are officially under investigation, the Colorado State Forest Service has said that a controlled burn it conducted was the likely source of the fire.

A Jet Blue pilot who apparently had a psychotic break during a flight has been charged with a crime.

U.S. authorities filed criminal charges on Wednesday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who yelled incoherently about religion and the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him in a midair uproar.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behavior by Capt. Clayton Frederick Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley….

The Justice Department filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a U.S. official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Osbon, 49, remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The man sounds mentally ill to me. I’ll be interested to learn more about what happened.

If you’re interested in some juicy gossip from Arlen Specter’s new book, you can find it at The Washington Post and Huffpo. There appears to be quite a bit in the book about naked Senators–including Ted Kennedy. I think I’m going to pass on reading this book.

Sooooo… what are you reading and blogging about today?