Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 23 2014 9:12 PM

Federal Judge Rules Colorado Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Colorado became the latest state to have a federal judge strike down its state ban on same sex marriage on Wednesday. The court ruled that disallowing gay marriage was unconstitutional, but as with previous rulings elsewhere, imposed a temporary stay on the implementation of the decision until a potential appeal can be heard. “The Wednesday ruling marks the 25th district court ruling against a gay marriage ban since last year’s Supreme Court rulings,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Colorado's Supreme Court last week ordered the Denver County clerk to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples pending the resolution of an appeal by the state's attorney general,” Reuters reports. “Emboldened by a landmark U.S. appeals court ruling in June that found in favor of gay marriage in neighboring Utah that was itself put on hold, a handful of county clerks in Colorado had begun issuing marriage licenses despite a state ban on gay nuptials.”

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The federal civil suit was filed by six gay couples on July 1.

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July 23 2014 7:55 PM

Arizona Man Gasps and Snorts During Lethal Injection Execution That Took Nearly Two Hours

After a high-profile legal battle over the drugs used in the lethal injection cocktail, the execution of convicted murder, Joseph Wood, finally went ahead in Arizona on Wednesday. The execution was carried out, but how it took place will surely add fuel to the growing controversy over lethal injections in America.

According to the AP, Wood “was put to death in an apparently flawed procedure that took too long to conclude. An hour into the execution, his lawyers [filed] an emergency [Supreme Court] appeal, saying he'd been ‘gasping’ and ‘snorting’ for an hour… Word that Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the appeal came about a half hour after Wood's death.” The AP reporter on the scene witnessed Wood gasp more than 600 times before he died from a procedure that experts say should have taken 10 minutes.

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Here’s more from NBC News:

The execution of Joseph Wood — which Arizona carried out with a lethal-injection it had never before tried — is certain to fan the debate over how U.S. states carry out the death penalty. Midway through the execution, defense attorneys asked a judge to stop the execution of Joseph Wood and order prison officials to try to resuscitate him. But before the court acted, he was pronounced dead. "The execution commenced at 1:52 p.m. at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC) - Florence. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m," a statement Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. The statement did not say what problems the execution team had encountered, but Wood's lawyers painted a macabre picture.

Wood was given the death penalty for the double murder of his girlfriend and her father in 1989. On Tuesday a federal appeals court sided with Wood’s lawyers who in seeking to delay the execution, the Associated Press reports, “used a new legal tactic in which defense attorneys claim their clients' First Amendment rights are being violated by the government's refusal to reveal details about lethal injection drugs.” The legal team was seeking information on the drug combination used by the state of Arizona. The Supreme Court, however, overruled the stay, allowing the execution to be carried out.

Wood’s apparently mishandled execution comes on the heels of the gruesome botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett in April.

*This post has been updated.

*Correction, July 23, 2014: This post originally stated Clayton Lockett was executed in Ohio. The execution took place in Oklahoma.

July 23 2014 6:48 PM

With Latest Recall, GM Makes a Solid Run at Recalling Every Car It’s Ever Made

Welcome to your monthly General Motors recall update. General Motors, you’ll recall, is an American automaker. It sells people cars and then—as it was again shown on Wednesday—it takes those cars back from their owners. GM’s latest effort to look as much like Meineke as automotively possible came as the company announced another six safety recalls covering nearly 718,000 vehicles in the U.S. “The problems ranged from a broken screw that could cause front seats to move up and down freely to problems with some welds to problems with the power steering,” CNN reports.

GM says the recall was prompted by two crashes and several injuries, but there have been no deaths stemming from the defects. It’s a testament to GM’s dwindling reputation as a maker of cars that such recalls have become ho-hum. After all, the company has already recalled 29 million cars worldwide this year, with 25.7 million of those occurring in the U.S.—including millions with faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes. That’s more than all of the recalled vehicles by every car company in the world combined last year. And it’s not just the jalopies, GM’s even making new cars that don’t really work. “Most of GM's recalls this year have been for older models, but many of the recalls announced Wednesday are for current-model vehicles, including about 57,000 Chevrolet Impala sedans from the 2014 model year for the loss of power steering,” Reuters reports. “The latest recalls hit GM's best-selling vehicles, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, from the 2014-2015 model years.”

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In a release announcing the recall, GM tried to put a positive spin on the whole thing. “These recalls signify how we’ve enhanced our approach to safety,” said Jeff Boyer, vice president, Global Vehicle Safety. “We are bringing greater rigor and discipline to our analysis and decision making. If we identify an issue – large or small – that might affect the safety of our customers, we will act decisively.” Apparently, they don’t test drive the cars before they sell them.

You can check out the full list of recalled cars and trucks here.

July 23 2014 5:09 PM

Ukrainian Rebel Says Rebels Had Anti-Aircraft Missile System

Reuters has a scoop this afternoon that supports the most widely held theory about the downing of flight MH17 (namely, that rebels using a Russian-supplied missile system fired at the plane by mistake, believing that it belonged to the Ukrainian military):

A powerful Ukrainian rebel leader has confirmed that pro-Russian separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the type Washington says was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and it could have originated in Russia.
In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged for the first time since the airliner was brought down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday that the rebels did possess the BUK missile system and said it could have been sent back subsequently to remove proof of its presence.
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Reuters' story is datelined in the city of Donetsk, and the implication of Khodakovsky's statements seems to be that rebels in Donetsk province received the BUK system (which is apparently also called the SA-11 system) from other rebels in Luhansk province before the crash occurred, though he doesn't quite say so directly or definitively. (Read the whole piece to see what we mean.)

Kodakovsky believes the Ukrainian government may be complicit in the attack on MH17 because it launched airstrikes in a region where it had reason to believe anti-aircraft missiles were present and thus potentially provoked the counterstrike that downed the plane.

July 23 2014 2:56 PM

Blue Angels Scandal Involves Genitalia Painting So Large It Could Be Seen on Google Maps

The Navy's investigation of sexual harassment allegations in the Blue Angels daredevil air unit has been made public. The report finds that former Angels commanding officer Gregory McWherter "witnessed, accepted, and encouraged behavior that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately and in the aggregate, became destructive, toxic, and hostile." The details are bizarre and support the conclusion that the Blue Angels' environment was hostile toward both women (who have piloted Navy planes for decades, though there has never been a female Blue Angel) and the group of men who don't want to look at pornography or discuss their colleagues' personal sex interests constantly at work (a group that includes many men):

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And:

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Regarding a group communications tool:

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Pumpkins? Yes:

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And finally, a very large painting:

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Well. How about that? The Navy has instigated several reforms related to the report's findings, though McWherter's ultimate punishment appears to be TBD.

July 23 2014 11:39 AM

Rockets Found Stashed in a United Nations Gaza School for Second Time

Last week the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that it had found rockets in a (currently unused) UNRWA school in Gaza. On Tuesday the possibility that this was a propaganda move by jihadists—to use the school as a shield and/or bait Israelis into attacking it—seems to have gotten stronger, as UNRWA found rockets in a school again. From the group's statement:

As soon as the rockets were discovered, UNRWA staff were withdrawn from the premises, and so we are unable to confirm the precise number of rockets. The school is situated between two other UNRWA schools that currently each accommodate 1,500 internally displaced persons.
UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.
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UNRWA says it gave the first group of rockets it discovered to representives of Palestine's unity government, of which it says Hamas—which has been launching rockets toward Israel for weeks—is no longer a member. (It's not entirely clear that this is the case.) What will be done with the rockets discovered Tuesday is unknown.

July 23 2014 10:29 AM

Top Ebola Doctor in Sierra Leone Contracts Ebola

Sheik Umar Khan, the doctor leading anti-Ebola efforts in Sierra Leone—one of three Western African countries that have been hit by an outbreak—has contracted the virus himself, Reuters reports:

Khan, a Sierra Leonean virologist credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, has been transferred to a treatment ward run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, according to the statement released late on Tuesday by the president's office.
Health minister Miatta Kargbo called Khan a national hero and said she would "do anything and everything in my power to ensure he survives".
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"I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life," Khan said in an interview before he developed symptoms of infection. Three nurses at the facility where he worked have died in the last week.

July 22 2014 9:14 PM

75 Percent of Newark Police Stops Are Unconstitutional

The Department of Justice released its findings from a three-year federal investigation into just how bad the Newark police force is on Tuesday—and the picture it painted of New Jersey’s largest police department isn’t pretty. “Newark police engaged in the excessive use of force, routinely stopped people on the street for no legitimate reason and regularly stole property from civilians,” the Associated Press reports. Just how often were those instances of abuse? “Police failed to provide a sufficient constitutional reason for about 75 percent of pedestrian stops,” according to the Star-Ledger. “Eighty-five percent of those stopped were black in a city where blacks make up 54 percent of the population.” The report also found officers resorted to force unconstitutionally, or unnecessarily, 20 percent of the time.

The investigation was launched in 2011 following a complaint filed by the ACLU about the city’s policing tactics. As a result, the city’s police department will now be placed under federal supervision to ensure changes are made. “Under the agreement, the city has promised to train its officers on how to carry out stops and arrests that are constitutionally sound and develop improvements to policies for stopping, arresting and using force on citizens,” according to the Star-Ledger.

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Here’s more of the troubling DOJ findings from the AP:

…the DOJ investigation found that over a six-year period, only one excessive force complaint was upheld by the police department, a figure [U.S. Attorney Paul] Fishman called "stunningly low" for a police department of its size...Theft by police department personnel is "more than an aberration limited to a few officers or incidents within the NPD," the report concluded. The problem is particularly acute in the specialized units such as narcotics, gangs and prisoner processing. The department was aware of the problem but still didn't sustain any theft complaints against the officers with the highest number of incidents, the report found.

July 22 2014 7:13 PM

11 Parents of the Nigerian Schoolgirls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Have Died Since Abduction

The abduction of more than 200 girls from the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok has understandably taken an immense toll on the community, and particularly the families, involved. However, the Associated Press has a report that shows the impact on the families of the girls has been particularly severe. Startlingly, 11 parents of the schoolgirls have died in the three months since their abduction. Chibok has been cut off from government control by Boko Haram, which has staged repeated attacks that show no sign of abating.

Seven fathers of kidnapped girls were among 51 bodies brought to the Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari this month, said a health worker who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals by the extremists. At least four more parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses that the community blames on trauma due to the mass abduction 100 days ago, said community leader Pogu Bitrus, who provided their names. "One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him," said Bitrus.
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Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan met with the parents of the kidnapped schoolgirls and some of girls that managed to escape on Tuesday. Jonathan, and the Nigerian government, have faced intense criticism for their handling of the mass abduction. “Mr. Jonathan said the government wanted to avoid a rescue effort that could lead to the girls being killed,” the BBC reports. “The US, UK, France, China and Israel have been helping in operations to secure the release of the girls, who are believed to be held in the Sambisa forest, near Nigeria's border with Cameroon.”

July 22 2014 6:15 PM

Ivy League Grad, Teacher Advocates Dismantling Ivy League to Rid America of Entitled Pricks

Do you enjoy contemplating and/or arguing bitterly about inequality, democracy, and American society? If so, you are in luck with William Deresiewicz's essay about the Ivy League in The New Republic. Deresiewicz has undergrad and doctoral degrees from Columbia and taught for 10 years at Yale. But he is not an Ivy League creature any longer—in fact, he was denied tenure—and, upon reflection, he would like to burn the United States' most elite institutions of higher learning to the ground. Why? To summarize, because they encourage careerism and materialism at the expense of contemplation...

...what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to.
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...And they perpetuate the division between haves- and have-nots, both financial and cultural, that increasingly characterizes American society—"creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead," a class of accomplished test-takers who aren't even capable, to use a past Deresiewicz example, of having a conversation with a plumber.

On the other hand: the entire unexamined premise of Deresiewicz's piece is that colleges should teach students "how to think" and "stand outside the world for a few years," which could itself be easily seen as an elitist concept held only by those who have the luxury of being ignorant to the practical advantages of vocational education. In any case, read the piece here and draw your own conclusions.

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