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!

 


Thursday Reads: Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions and Other News

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

Good Morning!!

The Supreme Court justices will convene this morning at 10AM. No one knows which rulings they plan to release. Will we learn their decision on same sex marriage? I hope so. I’m guessing they will leave the announcement of their decision on the Affordable Care Act for last. But who knows?

ABC News reports: Supreme Court Has Seven Final Cases to Decide, Including Gay Marriage and Obamacare.

The high court is saving the high drama for the end of its term.

As June dwindles, seven cases are left for the Supreme Court to decide — including one that could legalize same-sex marriage across the country and one that will significantly affect the future of Obamacare.

The court is scheduled to announce decisions Thursday, Friday and Monday, and it could add days beyond that. There’s no indication which decisions will be released on which days.

Mad Hatter tea party

The seven cases are summarized at the link. On the two most prominent cases:

Same Sex Marriage

In a landmark decision, the court will confront two questions. The first is whether states can ban same-sex marriage. The second is whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.

All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote three of the court’s most important opinions on gay rights. At an oral argument in April, Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides, and at one point he said “it’s very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better” what defines marriage than centuries of tradition limiting it to the union of a man and a woman.

Affordable Care Act

The justices could deal a potentially crippling, if not fatal, blow to President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

The challenge centers on whether the federal government is violating the act by offering subsidies to lower- and middle-income people who live in states that haven’t set up their own health care insurance “exchanges.”

Sixteen states have exchanges up and running. The remaining 34 rely on the federal exchange. The law says the subsidies can be made available only to people living where exchanges have been “established by the state.”

The plaintiffs argue that the subsidies are illegal because the federal government isn’t a state. The federal government argues that it was always clear that the subsidies would be available to anyone who bought insurance on an exchange. The insurance industry argues that if the federal subsidies are struck down, Obamacare itself would enter a “death spiral,” with costs rising for a shrinking number of participants, eventually causing the system to collapse.

Read about the other cases at the link.

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

Possible Outcomes on Same Sex Marriage

Although no one can really know what’s going on in Anthony Kennedy’s confused mind, most pundits expect the Supremes to decide that states cannot ban same sex marriage. I hope they’re right.

Richard Wolf at USA Today: Anticipating high court’s blessing, same-sex couples plan weddings.

Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes have sent out “Save the Date” cards and plunked down thousands of dollars for their November wedding, which promises to be Texas-style big.

Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck are busy laying plans for a January wedding in Mississippi, with traditional white dresses and all the trimmings.

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza have reserved their church for an October wedding in Kentucky, about the time of their 35th anniversary together.

Liz Neidlinger and Erika Doty have their sights set on an outdoor sculpture garden in Michigan next May.

Jon Coffee and Keith Swafford were engaged last October in Tennessee and decided to marry in a year, regardless of court action. If it had to be merely symbolic, that would be sufficient.

What sets the five couples apart from your average wedding planners is a small impediment: They can’t get married in their home states — not yet, anyway. But they’re so confident the Supreme Court will change that in the coming days that they already are making plans for the big day.

Tea, Henri Matisse

Tea, Henri Matisse

Chicago Tribune: Coming gay marriage ruling triggers anticipation, anxiety in gay couples.

Chantel and Marcela Gatica-Haynes, who live in Arizona, were married in a garden ceremony at an Ojai, Calif. bed-and-breakfast on Sept. 7, 2013. The wedding came less than three months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. They returned home to Flagstaff and were married again last October after a federal judge ruled Arizona’s ban on the marriages was unconstitutional.

Though many observers predict the coming ruling will open the door wider to same-sex marriage, Chantel Gatica-Haynes worries her marriage could be impacted by a ruling against the unions. She worries more that a ruling upholding state bans could affect Marcela’s attempt to adopt Chantel’s 1-year-old daughter, Aspen.

“We’re just in this holding pattern,” she said. “The things that are hanging out there will affect our daughter’s future even when we’re gone.”

More at the link.

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

The Boston Globe: Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision still in question.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, the justices have considered two principal questions:

1) Does the Constitution require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2) If same-sex couples marry in one state, where it’s legal, must other states recognize their marriages?

If the justices say yes on the first question, then same-sex couples in all states will be able to marry. If the justices say no to the first question, but yes to the second, then same-sex marriages will be recognized in every state, but states will not have the duty to marry same-sex couples.

If the justices say no to both questions, then states without same-sex marriage will be neither required to perform same-sex unions, nor to recognize unions performed out of state.

At oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely viewed as the swing vote on the case, asked the petitioners early on about the role of the court in changing a definition of marriage that has been used for “millennia,” instead of allowing citizens to engage with the issue through the states.

But Kennedy, who spoke only 17 times during the hearing — the least of any justice barring famously silent Clarence Thomas — also spoke of the ability of same-sex couples to recognize the “nobility and sacredness” of marriage.

Read the rest at the Globe.

TEA PARTY painting

NPR: Maps: What The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage Could Mean.

It’s always tough to predict how the court will rule but, broadly speaking, there are three main possibilities: the simplest is that the court declares state marriage bans unconstitutional, meaning states will all perform and recognize same-sex marriage. That’s a pretty simple outcome, but things get much trickier in the other two cases.

One other possibility is that the court decides to uphold bans. That means states that currently have bans could continue having theirs. But it also leaves 20 states up in the air legally. That group includes states where federal action struck down state bans. If the Supreme Court says bans are constitutional, those states could go back to having bans in place.

And there’s also the possibility of the court saying bans are constitutional, but that all states must all recognize marriages performed in other states. This option retains the messiness of the above possibility, but it does mean that couples would be recognized equally nationwide.

While you can break the decisions down into three neatly color-coded maps, there is a complicated web of state laws at work, and it means outcomes could vary widely by state if the court decides bansare constitutional. Adam Romero, senior counsel at UCLA’s Williams Institute, says the states where federal action struck down state bans are where things could get really complicated.

Read more and check out the maps at the NPR link.

The Affordable Care Act Ruling

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

From New York Magazine: Chief Justice Roberts’s Big Health-Care Moment, by Cristian Farias.

Chief Justice John Roberts has big plans after the end of the current Supreme Court term. He will be hopping on a plane to Japan, half a world away from any fallout that may result in the aftermath of King v. Burwell, the closely watched challenge to the Affordable Care Act. According to SCOTUSblog, that decision could come as early as this Friday.

Three years ago, when Roberts first saved President Obama’s signature law, he headed for the other side of the globe, to Malta — a CBS Newsscoop about a vote switch and internal “arm-twisting” by Roberts aroused such conservative wrath, the Mediterranean island seemed like a good place for him to teach some law and weather the controversy. “After ruling, Roberts makes a getaway from the scorn,” said the Times.

No one knows where the chief justice stands in King, but there are real-world, pragmatic reasons for him to side with the government again — even more so than with NFIB v. Sebelius, which threatened a law still in its infancy and not yet fully implemented. Now the prospects of unraveling insurance markets and millions losing health-care subsidies with an adverse ruling are real, and Roberts more than any of the justices cares about these things because the court bears his name and anything the court does, whether he had something to do with it or not, falls under his legacy. He’s the most accountable member of the least accountable branch.

But consider also that by the time a decision is announced, Roberts will have finished his tenth year on the Supreme Court — a milestone legal scholars and commentators will seize on to discuss that legacy, his jurisprudence, and whether he has delivered on his promise to be the kind of chief justice who merely “calls balls and strikes,” as he famously said during his confirmation hearings. Just yesterday, the Upshot suggested the court is leaning leftward more than any other time in recent history. And other retrospectives have begun to roll out: the Constitutional Accountability Center, a legal advocacy group, has published a series of reports on Roberts’s first decade and his record — on civil rights, campaign finance, access to justice, the environment, equality. The kinds of cases the public cares about. And yes, that includes health care.

Much more interesting analysis at the link.

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Washington Post: Supreme Court ruling could push health industry agenda to back burner — again, by Catherine Ho.

The health care industry was hoping this would be the year it could move beyond the Obamacare fight in Washington and on to new priorities, such as improving drug development and patient care.

But the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in King v. Burwell threatens to derail those ambitions.

Industry advocates are concerned that no matter how the court rules on the legality of certain insurance subsidies provided under the law, the health care debate in Congress will once again become dominated by the political divisions over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“It has the potential for serious chaos and disruption,” said health care lobbyist Ilisa Halpern Paul, who represents hospital systems and health advocacy groups.

The court is expected to rule as early as Thursday on whether to strike down a critical part of the law by invalidating subsidies to 6.4 million Americans in the 34 states that have federally run health insurance exchanges.

If the court rules against the subsidies, Republicans will be scrambling to figure out whether they should find a way to keep them in place until after the 2016 election when they hope a Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress can repeal the law in its entirety. The concern for Republicans is that if they don’t find a way to keep the subsidies in place until a new plan is ready, they will face backlash from constituents who currently use them to offset the cost of their health insurance. The legislative focus on the subsidies would mean all other health-related legislative initiatives that have gained traction recently are likely to come to a halt, at least temporarily.

More at the WaPo.

And some maps of the possible results of the decision at Slate: These Maps Show How Radically the Supreme Court Could Upend the Health Care System.

Once again the fate of the Affordable Care Act rests in the hands of the Supreme Court. In King v. Burwell, the court is weighing whether the federal government can legally provide insurance subsidies to people who have purchased their health care through one of the federally run exchanges in 34 states. Whatever the court decides could also theoretically extend to three other exchanges—in Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon—that are state-based but federally supported. Altogether, roughly $1.7 billion in tax credits and the health insurance of more than six million people is at stake. It’s arguably the biggest existential challenge to Obama’s signature health care reform since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in 2012.

The crux of the case is a perilous clause buried in the ACA’s hundreds of pages. According to the law’s exact wording, people become eligible for federal insurance subsidies if they’ve purchased care through “an Exchange established by the State.” Because of those last four words, the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argue that federal subsidies can only be available on state-based exchanges, and not on the federally facilitated ones in most of the country. The Obama administration has countered that the purpose of the law is to make health care accessible, and that “established by the State” should be read with that in mind. Several of the people who helped pen the legislation have dismissed the clause as a drafting error.

 Check out the maps at Slate.
The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

Other News, Links Only

#NotOneMore: Undocumented Transgender Woman Who Interrupted President At White House Pride Event Calls to End Deportation.

CNN: Obama shuts down White House heckler: ‘You’re in my house!’

Buzzfeed News: Bobby Jindal’s Plan To Stop Being A Punchline And Actually Win. [Good luck with that.]

Christian Science Monitor: Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the ‘next Reagan.’ What happened? (+video).

Slate: Bernie Sanders, Gun Nut. He supported the most reprehensible pro-gun legislation in recent memory.

NYT: Ex-Advisers Warn Obama that Iran Nuclear Deal “May Fall Short of Standards.”

AP via ABC News: Funeral Plans for South Carolina Church Shooting Victims.

Daily Mail: Harvard professor who covered up Ben Affleck’s slave roots could be dropped from PBS after he is slammed by broadcaster for ‘breaching standards.’

CNN: 2nd prison worker charged in connection with inmates’ escape.

TPM: Lindsey Graham: Charleston Shooter Showed ‘Mideast Hate’ (VIDEO). [WTF?!!]

PIX11.com: Chilling letters from ‘The Watcher’ force NJ family to flee $1.3M dream home.

ABC News: Small Ohio Town Is Focus of FBI Probe After Strange Deaths and Disappearances.

10WAVY.com: NYC: Whole Foods mislabels prepackaged items, overcharges.

WaPo: Whole Foods under investigation for overcharging in NYC.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday.


Thursday Reads

A woman wearing a turban while drinking a chocolate shake and reading the newspaper

Good Morning!!

The news that bleeds this morning is the shooting at Fort Hood.

So here’s the most recent article on that from the Boston Globe: Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment.

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

Within hours of the Wednesday attack, investigators started looking into whether the man’s combat experience had caused lingering psychological trauma. Fort Hood’s senior officer, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, said the gunman had sought help for depression, anxiety and other problems.

How is that even a question? I’ve written for years that we’ll pay a terrible price for these pointless wars and the way the men and women sent to fight in them. Massive numbers of Vietnam vets suffered from PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, drug addiction, and unemployment; and those guys mostly just went for one two-year deployment. But we didn’t have a draft when Bush decided he just had to act out his daddy issues and go back into Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein like his father failed to do. Talk about psychological problems!

The volunteer army wasn’t big enough for that, and they redeployed men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan again and again even when they were obviously had head injuries or PTSD. Now we’re all going to keep paying the price for Bush and Cheney’s folly, and the way they treated human beings like cannon fodder.

Back to the Globe article on the latest shooting:

The shooter was identified as Ivan Lopez by Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. But the congressman offered no other details, and the military declined to identify the gunman until his family members had been notified.

Lopez apparently walked into a building Wednesday afternoon and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued firing before entering another building, but he was eventually confronted by military police in a parking lot, according to Milley, senior officer on the base.

As he came within 20 feet of an officer, the gunman put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Milley said.

The gunman, who served in Iraq for four months in 2011, had been undergoing an assessment before the attack to determine if he had post-traumatic stress disorder, Milley said.

He arrived at Fort Hood in February from another base in Texas. He was taking medication, and there were reports that he had complained after returning from Iraq about suffering a traumatic brain injury, Milley said. The commander did not elaborate.

One more from the Washington Post: Pentagon grapples to understand how yet another insider threat went undeterred.

Wednesday’s mass shooting by an Army specialist in Fort Hood, Tex., put the Pentagon on a dreaded, if increasingly familiar, footing as officials grappled to understand how yet another insider threat went undeterred.

It unfolded just two weeks after the Defense Department unveiled the findings of threeinvestigations into last year’s fatal shooting at a Navy Yard building in Washington, D.C., by a contractor and four years after a similarly extensive inquiry into a massacre at Fort Hood by an Army psychiatrist led to vows of sweeping reforms.

“We do not yet know how or why this tragedy occurred, but nearly five years after the Nidal Hasan shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, it is clear that we must do far more to ensure that our troops are safe when they are at home on base,” Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), a former Army lawyer who was based at Fort Hood, said in a statement. “We must thoroughly investigate what happened today so that we can take whatever action is necessary to prevent something like this from ever occurring again.”

Yeah right. Keep on telling yourself that. To use an old military expression, “Situation Normal, All Fu*cked Up” (SNAFU).

Now let’s move on to the latest outrage from our right-wing, “religious” Supreme Court.

scotus blank check

From Adam Liptak at the NYT: Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Political Donation Cap

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle….

The 5-to-4 decision, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority, echoed Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Wednesday’s decision seemed to alter campaign finance law in subtle but important ways, notably by limiting how the government can justify laws said to restrict the exercise of First Amendment rights in the form of campaign contributions.

Follow me below the fold . . . Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Reads

vintage-summer-sonja-quinteroGood Morning!

The same news is dominating the cycle.  Republicans have gone crazy attempting to circumvent the democratic process in order to instill the religious right’s anti-abortion views on the country. People are still playing ‘Where’s Snowden?’  Every one is hashing over the new SCOTUS decisions and watching to see if Trayvon Martin will find justice and his parents will get peace.  The Supreme Court’s term this year has brought up speculation about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and possible retirement.

At age 80, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, says she is in excellent health, even lifting weights despite having cracked a pair of ribs again, and plans to stay several more years on the bench.

In a Reuters interview late on Tuesday, she vowed to resist any pressure to retire that might come from liberals who want to ensure that Democratic President Barack Obama can pick her successor before the November 2016 presidential election.

Ginsburg said she had fallen in the bathroom of her home in early May, sustaining the same injury she suffered last year near term’s end.

“I knew immediately what it was this time,” she said, adding that there was nothing to do but take pain killers and wait out the six weeks as her ribs healed. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said on Wednesday that the day after the May 2 incident, Ginsburg was examined at the Office of the Attending Physician at the Capitol and then went about her regular schedule.

I’ve been so tired of all the assaults on women, minorities, and the GLBT by the religious right in this country that I’ve nearly taken to leaving the TV off and limiting my time looking at the news.  Here’s some of the things these folks have to say about women.

Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed. . . . And if I am not a good man, I have no just right in this Church to a wife or wives, or the power to propagate my species. What then should be done with me? Make a eunuch of me, and stop my propagation. –Heber C. Kimball, venerated early LDS apostle (1801-1868)

·         A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. –Official statement of Southern Baptist Convention, Summer 1998, (15.7 million members)

·         The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. — Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist leader (1930–)

The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands. –James Fowler, Women in the Church, 1999.

·         Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture. Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill nondenominational mega-church franchise.  (1970–)

This just makes me want to airdrop them all on the Taliban so they can have their little wars all to themselves.  screen-shot-2011-11-16-at-7-57-34-pm

Here’s a great little bit of information that relates today’s shrill TeaBots to the real Boston Tea Party Patriots?  What would the founders have done with today’s group?

The fact is, the Founding Fathers would have hated the Tea Party – misspelled signs and all.Yes, you heard that right, they would have despised the ammo-hoarding sycophants of AM talk radio for a number of reasons, and would have likely lined them up in front of a firing squad or fitted them for a noose if this was the 18th century.

First of all, the original Tea Party was a protest of being forced to pay taxes on imported goods for which there was no competition. The East India Trading Company had the cozy relationship with the British government that allowed them to have a monopoly on tea and other items. Imagine Walmart being the only store from which you could buy and they dictated both cost and taxes on everything. The real Tea Party wasn’t about mentally unstable rants about oppressive government and imagined Muslim takeovers, it was about actual oppressive government in which there was no representation for the colonists.

In the modern United States, we do have representation and theoretically, everyone can vote. The American Revolution used bullets because ballots weren’t available and the East India Tea Company had too much power in government. Now we have ballots and so-called “patriots” are trying to take away voting rights, talking about using bullets if they don’t get what they want, and supporting corporate power in government via Citizens United. You know, the opposite of what the Founding Fathers and the real Tea Party were all about.

The Tea Party is ramping up against the immigration bill.  And of course, Fox News knows all about it.

After spending weeks dealing with the fallout from the IRS targeting scandal, Tea Party groups are starting to focus their energy on the immigration bill — a development that could imperil President Obama’s hopes for a speedy approval.

Before adjourning for the Fourth of July holiday break, the Senate easily approved its version of the legislation. The bill now rests with the House, where Republicans say they will take up their own version.

Obama, during his Africa trip, called on the House to “get this done” before the August recess.

But House lawmakers already are hearing conservative calls to slow things down. And if the debate leaks into August — when Congress takes a nearly month-long recess — the prospects could get even more wobbly. The Tea Party, during the 2009 August recess, famously helped stall ObamaCare by storming town hall meetings and other events.

Tea Party groups may be preparing to again mount demonstrations during the summer break. And even if the House passes a bill this month, it’s unlikely the two chambers would be able to agree on a unified piece of legislation by August — leaving the work unfinished going into recess.

While Tea Partiers await that opening, they’re already beginning to stir the pot.

Earlier this week, dozens of conservative groups including the Cincinnati Tea Party sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to declare the Senate package “dead on arrival.” They complained that the Senate bill, by virtue of giving up to 11 million illegal immigrants a shot at legal status, would make life harder for U.S. workers “struggling to reach the bottom rung of the economic ladder.”

Yes. I am sure that’s their concern.  That’s why we see so much emphasis on jobs and higher wages in Republican held legislatures all over the country.  But cheer up, Ted Nugent is considering running for President.  Imagine that!
So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pressure-cooker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read the motion here .)

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

Zimmerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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