Granite Mountain Sunset

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How the FBI Helped Prosecutors Railroad Criminal Defendants

Forensic examiners provided flawed testimony in hundreds of cases by A. Barton Hinkle – “And this also,” says Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “has been one of the dark places of the Earth.” He was referring to England. Those words are brought to mind by a pair of events: An important speech by FBI Director James Comey, and the bureau’s admission, less than a week later, that its forensic analysts had been helping prosecutors railroad defendants. Comey—at one time managing assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia—gave a speech at the Holocaust Museum’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner, explaining why he makes every new agent visit that museum. In it he mentions that on a recent flight he had been rereading Holocaust survivor Viktor Frank’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”(n.b.: not reading, but re-reading), and he has wondered how the Holocaust is “consistent with the concept of a loving God.” Comey also finds two lessons...

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Why Catholicism’s Relationship With LGBT Rights Is Getting Super Awkward

by JACK JENKINS – For almost two years now, both progressives and conservatives have written at length about Pope Francis’ new, more conciliatory tone towards LGBT people. In addition to his famous response to a question about gay priests in 2013 — “Who am I to judge?” — many liberal Catholics have praised the pontiff’s willingness to appoint more moderate bishops than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In the United States, this has given rise to a fresh crop of leaders more concerned with tackling poverty than, say, opposing same-sex marriage. The prevailing logic is that this new breed of bishop won’t necessarily change Church teaching on homosexuality, but if they simply avoid old “culture wars” altogether, they can remove Catholicism from protracted battles over LGBT rights and maybe even reorient the church’s energy away from anti-gay theology over time. In practice, however, this emerging band of American bishops hasn’t actually...

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Texas’ ‘Poll Tax’ Goes On Trial

by ALICE OLLSTEIN – A powerful federal court is now considering the fate of one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country: a bill Texas passed in 2011 that sharply limits the number of documents voters can use to prove their identity at the ballot box. In October, a judge struck down the law, calling it an “unconstitutional poll tax.” But Texas appealed that ruling, and the Supreme Court gave them the go-ahead to implement the law in last November’s midterm elections, where it disenfranchised hundreds of eligible voters. On Tuesday, the state argued at the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans that there is no proof lawmakers passed the law to intentionally suppress minority votes, and no proof any eligible voter has been denied the right to vote as a result. Scott Keller of the Texas solicitor general’s office noted that those without ID can still vote by...

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The Supreme Court Spends An Impossibly Ghoulish Hour Discussing How States Should Kill People

by IAN MILLHISER – WASHINGTON, DC — The drug midazolam may or may not be effective in preventing death row inmates from experiencing the excruciating pain caused by the other drugs Oklahoma wants to use to execute three inmates. This pain, which Justice Elena Kagan likens to the sensation of being burnt alive, would violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment under any plausible interpretation of the Eighth Amendment. The issue in Glossip v. Gross, which the justices heard on Wednesday, is whether very high doses of midazolam dull the pain of execution sufficiently to render Oklahoma’s methods constitutional. Early on in the argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor cites the case of Joseph Rudolph Wood, an Arizona inmate who spent two hours in apparent agony during a botched execution that began with a massive dose of midazolam. Almost immediately, however, the most conservative justices question whether anyone can really know...

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America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Breaks . . . Ground

By Anastasia Pantsios , EcoWatch – America’s smallest state claimed a big spot in the country’s renewable energy development history. Monday, Deepwater Wind broke ground on the country’s first offshore wind project, which will be built at Block Island, Rhode Island. The five turbines will produce 30 megawatts of power, enough to provide electricity to all the homes and businesses on the island as well as send power to the mainland through an undersea cable. The project, which will be operative next year, is expected to create 300 construction jobs. “The importance of this day cannot be overstated,” said Emily Norton, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. “The Block Island Wind Farm is our Apollo 11 moment. I am going to remember this day, and tell my kids and grandkids that I was there when the first U.S. offshore wind farm was built—that when we had a choice between bequeathing...

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In Bizarre Stunt, Governor Pretends To Sign Extreme Abortion Ban For Group Of Teenagers

by TARA CULP-RESSLER – Three weeks ago, Kansas became the first state in the country to ban a specific type of second-trimester abortion procedure, after Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a so-called “dismemberment” ban in a closed-door ceremony. But Brownback isn’t stopping there. According to a photo tweeted out by Brownback’s office, the governor was flanked by large photos of fetuses as he approved Senate Bill 95 at the beginning of April. A few days later, Oklahoma followed in Kansas’ footsteps and approved an identical measure. Perhaps seeking to solidify Kansas’ status as the first state to venture into this area, Brownback is now taking it a step further. On Tuesday, the governor traveled to four different cities across Kansas to reenact the signing of SB 95 in public ceremonies that teenagers could attend. The events took place at a Catholic church education building and three Catholic high schools. “I am profoundly...

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Fight Over Domestic Spying Heats Up in Congress with ‘USA Freedom Act’

With Patriot Act reauthorization quickly coming, fight over surveillance reform shows in competing bills by Jon Queally – A bipartisan bill, designed to rein in the bulk collection of the private communications of American citizens, was introduced Tuesday by members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, ahead of an upcoming expiration date for key Patriot Act provisions that have given legal authority to some of the most controversial domestic surveillance practices revealed over the last two years. With a June 1 expiration for Sections 206 and 215 of the USA Patriot Act, initially rammed through Congress in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the revisions contained in the new reform bill—submitted as the USA Freedom Act of 2015 (pdf)—would reauthorize certain aspects of that law while seeking to reform ways the government uses its spying capabilities. A similar reform bill was introduced last year in Congress, but ultimately...

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Second U.S. Ice Cream Maker Pulls All Products After Listeria Threat

HealthDay News — Last week, for the second time, a major U.S. manufacturer of ice cream has recalled all of its products because of possible contamination with the bacteria listeria. Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams said Thursday that it was recalling all of its ice creams, sorbets and ice cream sandwiches, and temporarily closing all of its scoop shops. The company said in a statement that it took the action after possible listeria contamination was found in one random sample that had been tested by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The company said it wasn’t aware of any illnesses caused by its products, and added that it issued the recall “out of an abundance of caution.” Listeria — officially known as Listeria monocytogenes — is a bacteria that can cause stomach illness, although it typically does not cause severe illness in healthy people. However, it can pose serious health...

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Navy’s X-47B Completes First Unmanned Refueling Exercise

By David Szondy, Gizmag – The US Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft has gone out on a high note (and added yet another acronym to the military lexicon) by conducting the first ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) exercise. The autonomous aircraft rendezvoused with an Omega K-707 tanker plane off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, successfully taking on 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of jet fuel as it completed the project’s final test objective. At a press conference, Captain Beau Duarte, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager, confirmed that on April 22, the X-47B carried out the last of four refueling exercises. During Wednesday’s test, the robotic aircraft became the first to autonomously approach a tanker, secure a refueling drogue, take on fuel, and disconnect. This was the last in a series of demonstrations to show that an unmanned aircraft can carry out standard Carrier...

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Gene Manipulation Boosts Tree Growth Rate and Size

By Darren Quick, Gizmag – Trees may be a renewable resource, but the rate of this renewal may not meet the increasing demand for plant biomass. But now researchers at the University of Manchester have potentially found a way to boost tree stocks by using gene manipulation to increase the size and growth rate of trees. A research team, led by Professor Simon Turner from the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, successfully modified two genes in poplar trees, called PXY and CLE, which are responsible for the rate of cell division in tree trunks. Poplar trees are already fast growing, which has led to interest in them as an energy crop and for CO2 mitigation, but the researchers say that causing the genes to overexpress resulted in the trees growing twice as fast as normal, while also ending up taller, wider and with more leaves. “Although, this needs be...

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Carl Stokes to CNN’s Erin Burnett: Thugs? Just Call Them N#ggers Then… (VIDEO)

by Frank Vyan Walton – The video title says that Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes “Explodes” when CNN’s Erin Burnett asked him “Isn’t ‘Thugs’ the right word to describe these ?”  Actually Carl was pretty calm as he de-Whitesplained what she really meant and was truly asking. “No, it’s not the right word to call our children ‘thugs,’” Stokes said. “These are children who have been set aside, marginalized, who have not been engaged by us.”“But how does that justify what they did?” Burnett countered. “That’s a sense of right and wrong. They know it’s wrong to steal and burn down a CVS and an old persons’ home. I mean, come on.” “Come on? Just call them n*ggers. Just call them n*ggers,” Stokes told her. “No, we don’t have to call them by names such as that. We don’t have to do that. That is exactly what...

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Shreds Opponent Of Same-Sex Marriage In Court

by DEBORAH MONTESANO – Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch crossed swords with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in court on Tuesday. He’s probably still feeling the sting. The Supreme Court heard 90 minutes of oral arguments on two issues regarding same-sex marriage. The first is whether same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to marry by the U.S. Constitution. The second is whether states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages are required by the Constitution to recognize those marriages when they’ve been performed in a state where they are legal. Justice Ginsburg has left little doubt that she is a firm supporter of equal rights for members of the LGBT community. During the hearing, she took Bursch, the lawyer who is trying to preserve states’ bans on same-sex marriage, to school. The argument that the courts shouldn’t interfere with tradition when it comes to the definition of marriage was the first to...

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Bernie Sanders Is Running For President – What This Means For The Democratic Party

by RYAN DENSON – Vermont’s NPR News source has learned that Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a left-wing populist, is running for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket, and thus will be the first official challenger to Hillary Clinton, who announced earlier this month. According to Vermont’s NPR, Sanders will officially announce his candidacy on Thursday followed by a campaign kickoff in the coming weeks where he will begin fundraising. From sources close to the Senator: “Sanders’ basic message will be that the middle class in America has been decimated in the past two decades while wealthy people and corporations have flourished. “His opposition to a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (T.P.P.) shows how he plans to frame this key issue of his campaign.” The Washington Post reports that Tad Devine, a former  campaign aide to Al Gore, John Kerry and Michael Dukakis, will serve as Sanders’ political...

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Key Expert in Supreme Court Lethal Injection Case Did His Research on Drugs.com

Case shows it’s nearly impossible to find experts to defend the practice By Annie Waldman, ProPublica – Today, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the highest-profile death penalty challenge in seven years, the justices will begin ruling on this question: Does Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam fail to make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”? For many court watchers, however, a subject of special scrutiny will be the credibility of Oklahoma’s key expert witness, Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, who has testified that inmates “would not sense the pain” of an execution after receiving a high dose of midazolam. The case, first brought by four condemned Oklahoma inmates, stems from the botched April 2014 execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. Although Lockett received a substantial dose of midazolam intravenously, it failed to render him unconscious...

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The Powerful Scene On The Streets Of Baltimore Monday Night That No One Is Talking About

By JUDD LEGUM, ThinkProgress – Violent rioting erupted on the streets of Baltimore on Monday, the day that a 25-year-old man who was killed while in police custody, Freddie Gray, was laid to rest. Cars were burned, more than a dozen police were injured and people raided stores across the city. The Governor of Maryland declared a State Of Emergency, the Mayor of Baltimore imposed a curfew and the Maryland National Guard was sent to patrol the streets. But chaos and violence were not the only things happening on the streets of Baltimore. But hundreds of Baltimore clergy linked arms and took to the streets in an effort to restore the peace. WBAL Reporter Deborah Weiner described the remarkable scene. “These are the church leaders who are putting themselves in harms way to end the violence… they are linked arm-in-arm… one gentleman is in front in a wheelchair.” “I asked...

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DOJ Report Slams For-Profit Texas Immigrant Prison

Reeves County Detention Center understaffed, ignores security problems, report finds By Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams – Reeves County Detention Center in West Texas, which houses mostly immigrants and was the scene of prisoner unrest in 2008 and 2009, is understaffed and has repeatedly failed to address administrative and security problems, according to a new report (pdf) published Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice. The 2,400-bed prison, which houses immigrants who committed low-level offenses, is the largest of its kind and run by the private correctional corporation The GEO Group, which also runs 100 other prisons and rehab centers around the world. Between October 2008 and December 2013, Reeves did not have enough medical or correctional personnel on staff, used an improper area of the prison to isolate inmates, and failed to address problems with security, health services, and record-keeping, the DOJ found. The GEO Group has a $493 million contract...

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New England Journal of Medicine Calls for Support of Marriage Equality

by d3clark – Last evening, the weekly issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) was released. The NEJM is one of the most prestigious medical journals published.  Its weekly editorial is most often focused on some medical issue – cancer research, discoveries in immunology, new cardiac surgery techniques, etc.  Occasionally, the editorial will discuss a political policy like health care for all in the U.S., children’s safety around firearms or some other topic that is less directly scientifically oriented.  This week the Journal came out strongly in support of marriage equality, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to find in favor of same-sex marriage. For more on their opinion and the case that then make, come below the orange medical diploma curlicue. The authors of the editorial do a brief review of the state of marriage equality in America.  Then they discuss the inequalities in health care that affect...

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‘Dumbest Cracker Ever’ Donald Trump Blames Obama For Black ‘Thugs’ In Baltimore

by JOHN PRAGER – Once again, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to show the world how totally “not-racist” he is in a series of tweets related to the unrest in Baltimore, Maryland. The reaction to the murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray at the hands of police has been mostly peaceful, but riots broke out following the Baltimore man’s funeral, with many taking advantage of the situation to loot, light fires, hurl objects at police, and generally act in a manner that is contrary to anything that is an effective and acceptable reaction to the murder. With the National Guard called in and curfews imposed on the populace, Trump knows exactly who is at fault for the entire situation: Barack Obama, King of All Black People: According to Trump, Obama failed to employ the same mind control technology he used to get black people to vote for him...

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Nation Ready to Make History: US Supreme Court Takes Up Gay Marriage

A decision, expected by June, could determine the fate of marriage equality nationwide by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer, Lauren McCauley, staff writer – Updated: Following the conclusion of oral arguments in Tuesday’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court hearing, advocates displayed cautious optimism that after years of legal wrangling, the U.S. legal system may finally support full marriage equality. “The case for the freedom to marry shone through at every turn in the argument, undimmed and undeniable,” said Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson following the hearing. He added that “it should be clear to a majority of justices, as it has been to a cascade of lower courts and a national majority for marriage, that there is simply no good reason, no just principle, no argument, no evidence to justify perpetuating marriage discrimination any longer.” Though framed by supporters of same-sex marriage bans as an issue of states’ rights, arguments...

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