Tuesday Reads: Indiana Summer Blogging

Summer thunderstorm in Indiana

Summer thunderstorm in Indiana

Good Morning!!

I’m still staying with my mother in Indiana. Her 90th birthday party was a huge success. Everyone that we expected showed up, and I got to talk to some cousins I haven’t seen in ages–except on Facebook. The weather sort of cooperated. It had been raining for days, but we just had intermittent showers on Saturday, the day of the party. We had the canopy set up over part of the driveway so the tables were on solid ground. We had too much food, so we donated some of it to a local homeless mission, ate some leftovers, and froze the rest. Since that day, we’ve had gorgeous sunny weather.

The image above of the first lighting strike of an Indiana thunderstorm comes from Schweiger Photo. I’m including other scenic photos of various parts of Indiana throughout this post.

Supreme Court Decisions and Reactions to Them

A country road in Randolph County, Indiana

A country road in Randolph County, Indiana

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to dominate the news today. I know you have already heard about the terrible decision to allow Oklahoma to continue using drugs that cause intense, extended pain for their inhuman executions. The U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, but Samuel Alito thinks it’s much more important to preserve the death penalty than to worry about whether the victims feel like they are being burned alive.

Carimah Townes at Think Progress: It’s ‘The Chemical Equivalent Of Being Burned At The Stake.’ And Now It’s Legal.

By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the use of the lethal injection drug midazolam does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling comes more than a year after the botched executions of several inmates who remained conscious and experienced pain as they were put to death.

According to the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, “petitioners have failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment. To succeed on an Eighth Amendment method-of execution claim, a prisoner must establish that the method creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives. Petitioners failed to establish that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution. Petitioners have suggested that Oklahoma could execute them using sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, but the District Court did not commit a clear error when it found that those drugs are unavailable to the State.”

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “as a result, [the Court] leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

The Indiana Dunes at Lake Michigan

The Indiana Dunes at Lake Michigan

Alito’s “reasoning” is that since the death penalty is “settled” law, whatever drug is available must be used even if it causes extreme pain and does not cause unconsciousness. Remember when Clayton Lockett “gasped for 43 minutes” before he finally died?

Cristian Farias at New York Magazine: In Lethal-Injection Case, the Supreme Court Essentially Ruled That Death-Row Inmates Have to Pick Their Poison.

Now we know why the Supreme Court left Glossip v. Gross a contentious case about the constitutionality of lethal-injection protocols — for the very last day of its term. Four out of five justices who had something to say in the case announced their opinions from the bench — an extremely rare occurrence that the American public won’t get to hear for itself until audio of the session is released sometime in the fall.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices ruled that the death-row inmates in the case failed to establish that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam, a sedative they claimed was ineffective in preventing pain, violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The case’s various opinions and dissents run a whopping 127 pages — far longer than even the Obamacare and marriage-equality decisions. And they’re a sign that states’ methods of punishment are a major point of conflict at the court.

But Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the lead opinion, went further: He said it is up to the death-row inmates and their lawyers — and not up to Oklahoma — “to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain,” which is “a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims.” In other words, it is the responsibility of those condemned to death to plead and prove the best alternative method to execute them. They have to pick their poison — otherwise, no harm, no foul under the Constitution.

And just so that there aren’t any doubts, even though the case was not about the death penalty proper, Alito went out of his way to remind us that “we have time and again reaffirmed that capital punishment is not per seunconstitutional.”

Samuel Alito should never have been approved by the Senate. He’s a monster.

Indiana corn, "knee high by the Fourth of July."

Indiana corn, “knee high by the Fourth of July.”

The Court ordered that abortion clinics in Texas could remain open for the time being. Ian Millhauser at Think Progress: BREAKING: Supreme Court Allows Texas Abortion Clinics To Remain Open.

The Supreme Court issued a brief, two paragraph order on Monday permitting Texas abortion clinics that are endangered by state law requiring them to comply with onerous regulations or else shut down to remain open. The order stays a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed broad limits on the women’s right to choose an abortion within that circuit.

The Court’s order is temporary and offers no direct insight into how the Court will decide this case on the merits. It provides that the clinics’ application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision is granted “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition” asking the Court to review the case on the merits.

Ugh. I can hardly wait for the final decision./s

And then there’s the continuing unhinged right wing response to the Supremes’ decision on gay marriage. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been in dangerous meltdown mode ever since the announcement on Friday.

A Converse County, Indiana road.

A Converse County, Indiana road.

Politico reports: Ted Cruz: States should ignore gay-marriage ruling.

“Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it,” the Texas Republican told NPR News’ Steve Inskeep in an interview published on Monday. Since only suits against the states of Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky were specifically considered in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which was handed down last Friday, Cruz — a former Supreme Court clerk — believes that other states with gay marriage bans need not comply, absent a judicial order.

“[O]n a great many issues, others have largely acquiesced, even if they were not parties to the case,” the 2016 presidential contender added, “but there’s no legal obligation to acquiesce to anything other than a court judgement.”

Izzat so?

While Cruz’s statement may be technically true, federal district and circuit courts are obligated to follow the Supreme Court’s precedent and overrule all other states’ same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional.

The Texas senator then went on to suggest that Republicans who have called for following the court’s decision are members of a “Washington cartel” and are lying when they say they do not support same-sex marriage.

“[Republican Party leaders] agree with the rulings from last week, both the Obamacare ruling and the marriage ruling,” Cruz said. “[T]he biggest divide we have politically is not between Republicans and Democrats. It’s between career politicians in both parties and the American people.”

I guess Cruz hasn’t bothered to look at the polls that show most Americans support same sex marriage–or, more likely, he couldn’t care less what Americans think about it. Get over it, Ted. Marriage equality is “settled law” now.

Another view of the Indiana Dunes.

Another view of the Indiana Dunes.

From The Hill: Cruz bashes ‘elites’ on Supreme Court.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Monday bashed “elites” on the Supreme Court for imposing their will on America’s heartland in its decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

“You’ve got nine lawyers, they are all from Harvard or Yale — there are no Protestants on the court, there are no evangelicals on the court,” the 2016 GOP presidential candidate said on NBC’s “Today,” echoing criticism from Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion.

“The elites on the court look at much of this country as flyover country; they think that our views are simply parochial and don’t deserve to be respected.”

ROFLMAO! Earth to Ted: You graduated from Princeton and Harvard and worked under former Chief Justice Rehnquist. Obviously you think the inhabitants of “flyover country” are too stupid to know that.

A couple more reactions:

AL.com: Roy Moore: Alabama judges not required to issue same-sex marriage licenses for 25 days.

The Texas Tribune: Some Counties Withholding Same-Sex Marriage Licenses.

Following the Charleston Massacre,

A windmill on an Indiana farm

A windmill on an Indiana farm

a number of black churches have been burned in the South, according to Think Progress.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least six predominantly black churches in four Southern states have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past week. While some may have been accidental, at least three have been determined to be the result of arson.

The first arson fire was on Monday at the College Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Knoxville fire department has said that the arsonist set multiple fires on the church’s property and the church’s van was also burned. On Tuesday, a fire in the sanctuary of God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia was also blamed on arson, although the investigation is ongoing. And on Wednesday, a fire at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina was determined to be caused by arson, destroying an education wing that was meant to house a summer program for children, impacting its sanctuary and gymnasium, and causing an estimated $250,000 in damage.

The cause of a fire that destroyed the Glover Grover Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina on Friday is unknown, while lightning is suspected in a fire that destroyed the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee on Wednesday and a tree limb that fell on electrical lines is suspected in a fire at the Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida on Friday that destroyed the church and caused an estimated $700,000 in damage.

That is truly frightening. Read more details at the link.

A log cabin in Brown County, Indiana

A log cabin in Brown County, Indiana

Blue Nation Review: EXCLUSIVE: Bree Newsome Speaks For The First Time After Courageous Act of Civil Disobedience.

Over the weekend, a young freedom fighter and community organizer mounted an awe-inspiring campaign to bring down the Confederate battle flag. Brittany “Bree” Newsome, in a courageous act of civil disobedience, scaled a metal pole using a climbing harness, to remove the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. Her long dread locks danced in the wind as she descended to the ground while quoting scripture. She refused law enforcement commands to end her mission and was immediately arrested along with ally James Ian Tyson, who is also from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Read all about it and see photos at the link.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below and have a terrific Tuesday!


Driving as Act of Radical Feminism

Today has been a very special day in Saudi Arabia.  Some Saudi women are participating in “Wheels of Change” by driving their vehicles as an act of civil disobedience against treatment of women in the nation.

Saudi activists, encouraged by the Arab Spring and by the outlets for expression offered through Facebook and Twitter, declared Friday a day for Saudi women to take to the streets, behind steering wheels.

Saudi Arabia remains perhaps the only country in the world where women are banned from driving — even though no law explicitly bars Saudi women from driving. Saudi leaders from King Abdullah on down have said they believe Saudi women should be allowed to drive.

Inside and outside Saudi Arabia, some tend to see the ban as a frivolous issue — the stereotype being a Saudi woman princess in sunglasses wanting a little independence as she drives to Starbucks for a latte.

Activists and writers like Eman Fahad al Nafjan, a blogger, doctoral student, and mother in Riyadh, call the impact of the ban profound, saying that it limits women’s mobility into female employment and education, despite efforts by King Abdullah to boost both. And in a kingdom that the International Labor Organization says is the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council with a significant poverty rate, the ban is a drain on the resources of women, forcing many households to pay thousands of dollars a year for drivers, opponents say.

AJ is also reporting on these acts of civil disobedience against one of the most conservative monarchies in the area. This is truly an act of bravery in this country. Saudi Arabia has not yet experienced much civil unrest during the so-called “Arab spring’.

The subject of women driving was as puzzling as every woman-related issue in the tribal, patriarchal, and religious alloy of the Saudi mindset.

Women have driven in rural areas and in some compounds within cities all the time. There were no religious or legal pretexts to prevent women from driving. The opposition came from a group of religious scholars – purportedly for fear of “gender mixing” and anticipated sins – a fallacy that is obviously refuted by the fact that gender mixing is already in effect, whether women are in the back or the front seats of the cars – unless a parallel public world can be created for each sex, an idea which must occupy many scholars’ minds.

This was nothing new; religious views opposing women’s autonomy were the norms of Saudi scholars, fearing changes in the traditional gender roles. And when religious unrest contradicts official plans, the government often acts to keep the clerics in check. Examples are many, such as the beginnings of women’s education half a century ago and the opening of KAUST, the first co-educational university – which cost a known scholar his elevated position at the supreme committee of scholars.

I would like every one here to be aware of the bravery of the people in Saudi Arabia–the women and men–who are trying to bring modernity and women’s rights to what is unquestionably a misogynist society.  For more information on the role of social media in this movement, see the BBC’s story here.  Many Saudi women are posting videos and stories like the one above.

Fighting Back … Ballroom Days are Over

May take a week, and it may take longer.
They got the guns, but we got the numbers.
Gonna win yeah, we’re taking over.
Come on!


Your ballroom days are over, baby.
Night is drawing near.
Shadows of the evening
Crawl across the years.

Jim Morrison, from “Five to One”

I’ve spent the last six months watching this country’s policy makers throw all common sense and empirical evidence on the US economy to the wind. My jaw just drops when I consider what the Republicans have proposed under the flag of austerity and how the Democrats entertain them.

BostonBoomer and I spend a lot of time on the phone with each other. We’ve been each other’s support system having much in common as older, divorced women gone back to school and social justice activists feeling exiled in some kind of shared virtual gulag. We remember the protests and actions that we took at a younger age to demonstrate against war and the treatment of minorities and women.  BB was active in antiwar protests.  I was an avid women’s rights activist in the 70s and 80s, having found out that just getting good grades and hard work weren’t going to be enough for me to break into white male dominated bastions.  It’s maddening when you think of all the time you spend on your education and doing the right thing and find out that what really gets you ahead is your ability to fit certain biological characteristics and social status.  All those things I tried to change back then are being undone.  All over the country, privileged, wealthy people and corporations are using political donations and power to seek advantage like never before.  This is not healthy for our country or our future.  We need to end their Ballroom Days.

It’s heartened both of us to see union workers in the US and many citizens in the MENA region stand up to authority and demand their right to participate in policy decisions that impact their lives. All over the world, the immense transfer of wealth and national assets to a small elite–the uberwealthy few representing mostly inheritance dynasties–has occurred with the help of political lap dogs seeking donations and parochial interests.  It seems we may have reached a tipping point.  Some yearning-to-be-free democracy contagion has created a new call for activism to protect the interests of the many against the pillaging of the few.  It’s brought people to the streets all over the world and created scapegoats for rapacious states.  From whistle blowing of war crimes by Bradley Manning to shouting for no more political or economic prisoners in Northern African nations, we see ordinary, educated, middle class people taking to the streets and shouting enough!  We’ve fed the cheats long enough!

It’s about time.

Allison Kilkenny at The Nation has a new article up called “The Resistance Has Begun” that lists recent political demonstrations and unrest.  Her article was inspired by a post by Chris Hedges–This is What Resistance Looks Like–on the increasing number of political protests occurring around the country.   Hedges writes on the importance of the protests.  Are we looking at renewed activism from the people who’ve been hurt by the power class-enabling policies of the last 30 years?

Chris Hedges has this to say.

The phrase consent of the governed has been turned into a cruel joke. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. Civil disobedience is the only tool we have left.

We will not halt the laying off of teachers and other public employees, the slashing of unemployment benefits, the closing of public libraries, the reduction of student loans, the foreclosures, the gutting of public education and early childhood programs or the dismantling of basic social services such as heating assistance for the elderly until we start to carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience against the financial institutions responsible for our debacle. The banks and Wall Street, which have erected the corporate state to serve their interests at our expense, caused the financial crisis. The bankers and their lobbyists crafted tax havens that account for up to $1 trillion in tax revenue lost every decade. They rewrote tax laws so the nation’s most profitable corporations, including Bank of America, could avoid paying any federal taxes. They engaged in massive fraud and deception that wiped out an estimated $40 trillion in global wealth. The banks are the ones that should be made to pay for the financial collapse. Not us. And for this reason at 11 a.m. April 15 I will join protesters in Union Square in New York City in front of the Bank of America.

“The political process no longer works,” Kevin Zeese, the director of Prosperity Agenda and one of the organizers of the April 15 event, told me. “The economy is controlled by a handful of economic elites. The necessities of most Americans are no longer being met. The only way to change this is to shift the power to a culture of resistance.  This will be the first in a series of events we will organize to help give people control of their economic and political life.”

I’ve written recently about the Social Contract of 20th century America and how that contract has been broken by politicians seeking to empower the monopolies and oligopolies that fill their political accounts with booty.  Things have gotten so blatantly amoral that the very same folks that destroyed the Gulf ecosystem and took 11 lives and many livelihoods through careless management decisions rewarded themselves with bonuses and ‘best safety’ records with no concept that people might find that appalling. This was a repeat performance of the situation where executives of investment and commercial banks took huge bonuses right on the back of their bad management decisions that brought near US economic collapse and massive bail outs with federal funds. Also, BP is right back applying for drilling rights having really not made things right on either the human or the environment accounts for their last cost-cutting, profit gouging adventure in ignoring safety for the sake of quick profits.

When the social costs of doing business exceed the benefits of doing that business for every one but a few, the society needs to take a hard look at why it tolerates such behavior.  Forcing other people to bear the costs of your business or your consumption is wrong and that’s exactly what most business subsidies and lax regulations do.  When businesses can push their costs off on society or consumers of certain goods can push their costs off on society, that market becomes distorted and dysfunctional.   The market price does not reflect true costs. It will overproduce harmful goods and drain resources that would be better placed elsewhere.  The only way to push these costs back to the producers and consumers of  costly activities and end the dysfunction is through legal prosecution or tough regulation.   The idea that’s been propagated that regulation serves no purpose in a market system is part and parcel of the problem.

Opaque, vague markets do no one any good.  They serve as breeders of Ponzi schemes like that of Bernie Madoff. Markets that don’t force the true cost of doing business back on the producer are no good either.  They take precious scarce resources and allocate them to activities that are not worthwhile because prices and costs are understated.  There are mounds and mounds of microeconomic studies that show how insidious markets can be when they are distorted by things like information asymmetries or supply-enabling protection.  All of these activities set up winners and losers.  In most cases, ordinary people are  the losers.  It takes money and power to access the special treatment offered by politicians and their laws.  You only get those huge passes and benefits if your get to call yourself a corporation in this country.  You can collect a lot of money for being inefficient for some reason.  Businesses in this country are considered to be ‘individuals’ for freedom of speech issues but they go unprosecuted for murder every day.  Just talk to grieving families of those 11 workers who died on the Deep Water Horizon in the name of increased production and lower costs.  Only a sociopath could murder 11 people with safety shortcuts then provide incentives for good safety records to the instigators of the bad decisions.  The only offset that we have to the kind of power and access achieved by lobbyists and corporate interests is civil disobedience and protests.  Protest we must!

Kilkenny’s article lists a number of protests that are brewing around the country.  These include examples in New York State, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other average cities with average US citizens.  Is this a Middle Class Awakening going viral?  Here’s some more from Chris Hedges on how concentration of power and money in monopoly banks has warped our policy agendas and priorities. Our incomes from hard work are being skimmed by paper shuffling fees paid as bonuses to agents with no productive purpose but market distortion.

The 10 major banks, which control 60 percent of the economy, determine how our legislative bills are written, how our courts rule, how we frame our public debates on the airwaves, who is elected to office and how we are governed. The phrase consent of the governed has been turned by our two major political parties into a cruel joke. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. And the faster these banks and huge corporations are broken up and regulated, the sooner we will become free.

Bank of America is one of the worst. It did not pay any federal taxes last year or the year before. It is currently one of the most aggressive banks in seizing homes, at times using private security teams that carry out brutal home invasions to toss families into the street. The bank refuses to lend small business people and consumers the billions in government money it was handed. It has returned with a vengeance to the flagrant criminal activity and speculation that created the meltdown, behavior made possible because the government refuses to institute effective sanctions or control from regulators, legislators or the courts. Bank of America, like most of the banks that peddled garbage to small shareholders, routinely hid its massive losses through a creative accounting device it called “repurchase agreements.” It used these “repos” during the financial collapse to temporarily erase losses from the books by transferring toxic debt to dummy firms before public filings had to be made. It is called fraud. And Bank of America is very good at it.

There is nothing free market about government-installed and enabled monopolies.  We achieve nothing as a society by buying into the delusion that all government does is destroy the business environment when all evidence points to their enabling of the worst business practices.  There is nothing remotely efficient about markets that can use public resources on the cheap to underprice goods and services, hence making them more marketable than they should be.  There is no efficiency in letting producers of products and services pass the costs of their bad management decisions on to middle class and working people.  You cannot blame government workers for the current economic failings.  You can however, blame Bank of America, Republican Governors who hand out tax cuts indiscriminately, and federal subsidies of inefficient businesses. Huge corporations and rich people gobble up tons of public resources via subsidies, tax breaks, and use of infrastructure.  Many governors have literally given away their states treasury and resources courting businesses that cost them more than they bring to that state in jobs or revenues. The big lie is that corporations are overtaxed and receive no benefits from state, local or federal government.  We can’t afford to enable that big lie. We must protest it.

Ordinary Americans cannot band together to hire lobbyists to help repair our broken Social Contract.  The only thing we have are our feet, our voices, and our votes.  Paul Ryan’s budget Anthem is just the latest in a line of assaults on reason and common sense.  It is the very definition of pennywise and pound foolish and it’s insulting.  It hypes unnecessary tax cuts and increases in pentagon spending while removing funding for public health, public education, and public information programs. It continues the effort to redistribute the incomes and the resources of the country to the very few at the cost of the very many. The only way to stop this is to protest.  Protest frequently.  Protest openly.  Protest now.  Public Policy should not be based on badly written dystopian fiction novels.

It is not illegal immigrants that have broken the American Dream.  It’s not bands of stereotyped Muslim Bedouins hiding out in caves a world apart from Main Street that’s threatening the livelihoods of American workers. It’s not poor Cuba’s last vestiges of Marxism or crazy-like-a-fox Hugo Chavez. It’s time to stop falling for their straw men enemies. What has taken the American Dream away from so many is  the greed and power lust of a few people that have completely usurped the nation’s policy makers.  It’s time to remind them that they may have the guns, but we have the numbers.