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
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
The Texas Tribune: Some Counties Withholding Same-Sex Marriage Licenses.
Following the Charleston Massacre,
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.
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!
Mother Nature is wreaking havoc again–mostly down in Florida and the Gulf Coast, but also a little further north.
Extreme rainfall in much of the East and parts of the South is causing major problems, with Florida’s Panhandle and southern Alabama, which got more than 2 feet of rain in 24 hours, bearing the brunt of the onslaught….
In Pensacola, Fla., it was the single rainiest day ever recorded, and people climbed to rooftops or into attics to escape the rising floodwaters. NPR’s Debbie Elliot says Pensacola’s high bluffs over the bay undermined the busy scenic highway there.
“Scores of motorists were stranded as water gushed over roads,” she reports on Morning Edition. “At least one person was killed on a flooded roadway. Some homes are now flooded out, and entire neighborhoods are unnavigable. Boats have floated away from docks and are making landfall elsewhere.” ….
quotes Ben Kitzel, who paddled a kayak with Abby, his black Labrador retriever, on board: “There’s no way this flooding is going away anytime soon,” he told the newspaper.
Late last night a gas explosion in a Pensacola, Florida jail killed two people and injured at more than 150 others. The explosion was likely linked to the flooding. ABC News:
The explosion happened around 11 p.m. at the Escambia County Central Booking and Detention Facility in Pensacola, county spokeswoman Kathleen Dough-Castro said.
There’s no word at this point on whether the victims are inmates or guards, Pensacola Police Officer Maria Landy told ABC News Radio.
The injured – 155 inmates and guards in total – have been taken to area hospitals, most of them with minor injuries. About 600 uninjured prisoners were evacuated by bus and transferred to other detention facilities in the area, Dough-Castro said. No inmates are known to have escaped.
Further north, heavy rains were blamed for landslides in Baltimore, Maryland and Yonkers, New York. From The Weather Channel:
The heaviest rain has ended in the Northeast, but investigators and cleanup crews continue to deal with landslides in two separate states.
The largest of the two happened in Baltimore’s busy Charles Village neighborhood Wednesday, when a retaining buckled on 26th Street, sending cars and mud tumbling 75 feet onto CSX railroad tracks.
Neighbor Dana Moore watched it happen.
“It was there and then it wasn’t,” she told the Baltimore Sun.
No one was injured but homes were evacuated so investigators could assess the area’s stability. Structural engineers placed markers along the road to monitor conditions….
The wet weather is also blamed for a mudslide on Metro-North train tracks in Yonkers, New York.
From The Washington Post: Street collapses in Baltimore, washing away cars.
A street in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore collapsed Wednesday, washing away cars and flooding CSX railroad tracks that run below street level.
Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the Baltimore fire department, said no injuries were reported.
One lane of the East 26th Street between North Charles and St. Paul streets collapsed about 4 p.m. and slid down an embankment leading to the tracks below. The cause of the collapse was unclear, but it came on a day that the region wasexperiencing heavy rainstorms.
Several streets were closed late Wednesday afternoon. St. Paul and Charles are major thoroughfares that are generally crowded during both the morning and evening commutes. The neighborhood is largely residential rowhouses. Traffic was reported to be snarled in the area of the collapse and downtown.
Brennan said no houses were damaged, but fire officials said many residents living along East 26th Street were ordered to leave until building inspectors can assess their properties.
Don’t forget the Twisters! Last night there were numerous tornado warnings in the Washington, DC area, and the WaPo had a live blog of all the weather activity.
There were quite a few tornadoes down south over the past week or so, and meteorologists have noted oddities in recent tornado seasons. Could it be due to climate change? AP via ABC News: Tornado Seasons Lately Have Been Boom or Bust.
Something strange is happening with tornadoes lately in the United States and it’s baffling meteorologists. It’s either unusually quiet or deadly active.
Until this weekend’s outbreak, the U.S. had by far the quietest start of the year for tornadoes. By the beginning of last week, there had been only 20 significant tornadoes and none of them that big.
There was also a slow start four years ago. And after a busy January, last year was exceptionally quiet until a May outbreak that included a super-sized tornado that killed 24 people in Moore, Okla….
The 12-month period before last May set a record for the fewest significant tornadoes. But two years earlier, the nation also set a record for the most in 12 months.
Read about the possible causes at the link. And at National Geographic, see photos of destruction from recent tornadoes.
In other news . . .
There’s plenty of discussion in the media today about the horror show that took place in the Oklahoma death chamber on Tuesday. From Tulsa World, an Eyewitness account: A minute-by-minute look at what happened during Clayton Lockett’s execution.
From The National Journal, The ‘Recipe for Failure’ That Led to Oklahoma’s Botched Execution — “Secret suppliers of drugs, changes in lethal-injection protocol, a cavalier attitude among Oklahoma officials, and a national death-penalty system in crisis preceded Tuesday’s failed execution.”
A battle of political wills over Oklahoma’s secretive lethal-injection protocol turned into a gruesome scene of macabre theater Tuesday evening, as the state botched the execution of one inmate and halted that of another scheduled later in the night.
The mishandling reflects the extraordinary and surreptitious lengths a handful of active death-penalty states are now willing to go to in order to continue their executions, capital-punishment opponents say, and represents just the latest episode in a string of disturbing events on Oklahoma’s death row in recent months.
Moreover, Oklahoma’s ongoing morass is a symptom of a national death-penalty system in crisis, a system that is finding it increasingly difficult to procure the drugs necessary to carry out death sentences amid boycotts from European manufacturers and reticence from licensed physicians.
You all know what happened.
Death-penalty opponents are now calling for Oklahoma to suspend all of its executions for the rest of the year to avoid another botched job. Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has so far issued only a 14-day stay for Charles Warner, who was also scheduled to be put to death Tuesday night in the same room as Lockett just two hours later.
“Apparently they can conduct their entire investigation in two weeks,” Madeline Cohen, Warner’s defense attorney, told National Journal sarcastically.
In Oklahoma, as well as other places such as Texas and Missouri, states have turned to compounding pharmacies—where products are chemically crafted to fit an individual person’s needs—to produce the lethal cocktails. But these stores, which are not subject to strict oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, don’t want to be publicly associated with executions. In response, states have granted them anonymity, and their identity remains a mystery even to the attorneys representing the death-row inmates.
That couldn’t happen here, writes Bob Egelko of SFGate but California officials are nervous anyway. They should be!
The secrecy-shrouded, botched execution in Oklahoma on Tuesday couldn’t happen the same way in California, where state laws and regulations require public disclosure of the drugs used in lethal injections, where they come from and how they are administered.
But the agony of a dying murderer and other death penalty developments underscore the multiple problems besetting capital punishment in California, where executions have been put on hold until courts find no significant prospect of a nightmare like the one that unfolded Tuesday night.
The state, whose Death Row is the nation’s largest, has not executed anyone since 2006 because of federal court rulings arising from executions in which the prisoner appeared to remain conscious longer than expected, and from ill-defined procedures and inadequate staff training. State officials are making their third attempt to rewrite the rules for lethal injections to include safeguards that would satisfy the courts.
Why don’t these folks just give it up? Life imprisonment is cheaper and a bad enough punishment.
Once again yesterday, Republicans used the filibuster to prevent a vote on increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. From the WaPo: Democrats Assail G.O.P. After Filibuster of Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage.
With the Republican-led filibuster of a Senate proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 on Wednesday, Democrats moved swiftly to frame the vote as an example of the gulf that exists between the two parties on matters of economic fairness and upward mobility.
The question is not just one of money, they said, but of morality. And in doing so the Democrats returned to the themes that were successful for their party and President Obama in 2012 when they convinced swing voters that Democrats were mindful of the best interests of all Americans — not just those who are powerful and wealthy.
Speaking from the White House shortly after the measure was defeated 54 to 42, with 60 votes needed to advance, Mr. Obama admonished Republicans and called on voters to punish them at the polls in November. “If there’s any good news here, it’s that Republicans in Congress don’t get the last word on this issue, or any issue,” Mr. Obama said. “You do, the American people, the voters.”
Despite the Republicans’ efforts to damage the economy and sentence millions of Americans to a lifetime of poverty and struggle, “experts” (meaning Nate Silver) are predicting that the GOP will take control of the Senate in 2014. And other “experts” are arguing with the guy who was almost perfect in 2012. For example,
The Nation Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, Why I Don’t Agree With Nate Silver.
And a response from TPM: Pundit Who Was Dead Wrong In 2012 Is Now Questioning Nate Silver.
A wonky post on the Kraushaar-Silver kerfluffle from Bloomberg: Senate Forecasting: How to Beat Nate Silver.
But according to Mike Allen, even Dems think Repubs have a 60% chance of taking over the Senate.
And AB Stoddard of The Hill says lots of Dem candidates are “on thin ice.”
I’ll tell you how I’m dealing with this controversy. I refuse to read the articles. There nothing I can do about it so why get all upset? It’s the Scarlett O’Hara defense. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Finally, a little science news . . .
Physicists from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a clever trick to make it easier to transport heavy pyramid stones by sledge. The Egyptians moistened the sand over which the sledge moved. By using the right quantity of water they could halve the number of workers needed. The researchers published this discovery online on 29 April 2014 in Physical Review Letters.
For the construction of the pyramids, the ancient Egyptians had to transport heavy blocks of stone and large statues across the desert. The Egyptians therefore placed the heavy objects on a sledge that workers pulled over the sand. Research from the University of Amsterdam has now revealed that the Egyptians probably made the desert sand in front of the sledge wet. Experiments have demonstrated that the correct amount of dampness in the sand halves the pulling force required.
The physicists placed a laboratory version of the Egyptian sledge in a tray of sand. They determined both the required pulling force and the stiffness of the sand as a function of the quantity of water in the sand. To determine the stiffness they used a rheometer, which shows how much force is needed to deform a certain volume of sand.
Experiments revealed that the required pulling force decreased proportional to the stiffness of the sand. Capillary bridges arise when water is added to the sand. These are small water droplets that bind the sand grains together. In the presence of the correct quantity of water, wet desert sand is about twice as stiff as dry sand. A sledge glides far more easily over firm desert sand simply because the sand does not pile up in front of the sledge as it does in the case of dry sand.
The Egyptians were probably aware of this handy trick. A wall painting in the tomb of Djehutihotep clearly shows a person standing on the front of the pulled sledge and pouring water over the sand just in front of it.