Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 30 2014 8:35 PM

House Votes for Boehner to Lawyer Up and Sue Obama

While Republicans can’t seem to decide if they ever actually wanted to impeach President Obama in the first place, one thing they are sure of: They want to sue him. Really badly. On Wednesday, the House approved a GOP plan to launch a lawsuit aimed at Obama for allegedly overstepping his constitutional authority as president. The vote was, unsurprisingly, split along party lines—225 to 201—with all but five Republicans supporting the plan and zero Democrats thinking it was a good idea to sue the leader of their party.

The source of Republican anger remains constant—Obamacare. Still peeved over the health care law, "House GOP leaders have said they would focus the suit on the White House's decision last year to give employers a one-year reprieve on enforcing a requirement under the Affordable Care Act that they offer health coverage or pay a penalty,” the Wall Street Journal reports. "Everybody recognizes this is a political stunt," Obama said of the suit at a rally on Wednesday.

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Congress suing the president is not something that happens everyday in American politics, but it’s not unheard of. “In 2008, a federal judge backed a suit by Democrats who then controlled the House and were trying to force the Bush administration to honor House subpoenas of senior White House officials,” according to the Associated Press. “Though the House won the first round in court, that decision was under appeal when a settlement was reached and the lawsuit was dropped.”

Here’s more from the Journal on what an attempt to sue Obama may, or may not, mean.

The legal and political fallout from the decision to pursue the lawsuit remains largely unclear. Many legal experts have questioned whether the courts would take up such a suit, suggesting that lawyers representing the House could face significant hurdles. A court could question whether the House has met the standard of showing that it has been harmed by the president's actions, particularly because lawmakers are suing him for not enforcing a law they have repeatedly sought to repeal. Another question is whether the House, in acting without the Senate, has standing to sue the White House.
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July 30 2014 7:30 PM

Should the Subjects of Temporary Restraining Orders Have Their Guns Taken Away?

Under federal law, you can't own or possess a gun if you:

- have been convicted of misdemeanor abuse against your spouse (all felons are prohibited from possessing firearms, but can have those rights restored)

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- are the subject of a permanent restraining order

However, you can have a gun if you:

- have been convicted of misdemeanor abuse against a dating partner

- have been convicted of a misdemeanor stalking offense

- are the subject of a temporary restraining order

These alleged loopholes were the subject of a Senate hearing today; Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal have proposed bills that would extend the federal firearms possession ban to individuals in that second list above. The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee (Iowa's Charles Grassley) called the hearing a political stunt, though the Huffington Post says that the advocacy groups fronted by mass shooting victim Gabby Giffords and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg are hoping to persuade swing legislators in Congress to support the proposed prohibitions.

July 30 2014 7:22 PM

Helpful (Non-Southwest) Flight Attendant Reminds Passengers to Flush Drugs Before Landing

There are certain things you make sure you take with you on a flight, and others you make sure you don’t. ID? Yes. Bottled Water? No. Book? Sure, why not. Crossbow? Leave it at home with the others. But sometimes, as we all know, we forget what exactly we’ve placed where. That’s why there are helpful signs listing the dos and don’ts of modern air travel at airport security. And when even that’s not enough, flight attendants are there to pick up the slack. As a recent flight in Australia shows, however, there are appropriateness limits when it comes to a flight attendant doing you a solid.

This is one of those instances, according to “the man.” On a Jetstar Airways flight in Australia over the weekend a helpful member of the cabin crew took to the inflight P.A. system to issue this announcement to a planeful of passengers, many of which were on their way home from a weekend music festival. (via the Associated Press)

"We have been told there are sniffer dogs and quarantine officers waiting in the domestic terminal," Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday quoted the attendant as telling passengers via the Airbus A320's public address system. "If you need to dispose of anything you shouldn't have, we suggest you flush it now," he added. The newspaper said the warning prompted passengers to rush for the toilets. Jetstar spokesman Stephen Moynihan confirmed the newspaper report was accurate. He said the public response to the announcement had been "mixed..." One passenger told the newspaper several passengers suddenly made for the toilets with "things clenched in their hands."
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The airline later apologized—presumably to the passengers on board who weren’t carrying drugs. "The crew member's words were poorly chosen and are plainly at odds with the professional standards we'd expect from our team," Jetstar said in a statement. "We apologize to customers offended by the comments."

July 30 2014 6:07 PM

Alabama Utility Regulator Asks Citizens to Pray for Coal Power Plants

The president of Alabama's utility-regulation commission asked citizens to pray for the failure of a proposed EPA crackdown on coal pollution during a press conference held in the office of the Alabama Coal Association, AL.com reports. (The Obama administration's proposed reduction in carbon emissions—to 30 percent of 2005 rates by 2030—is expected to heavily impact coal-fired plants.) The remarks were made by Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, president of Alabama's Public Service Commission (PSC):

Cavanaugh called on the people of the state to ask for God's intervention.
"I hope all the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done," she said.
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Another speaker at the event was PSC commisoner-elect Chip Beeker:

Beeker, a Republican who is running unopposed for a PSC seat, said coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God's plan.
"Who has the right to take what God's given a state?" he said.

The public comment period on the proposed rule lasts until October 16.

July 30 2014 5:42 PM

Two Women Caught on Tracks Survive Getting Run Over by a Train

If you’ve ever seen the movie Stand By Me, you know walking on a train track bridge is a no-no. Earlier this month in Indiana life imitated art, as two women experienced a real-life version of the film’s iconic train scene—the only difference is they didn’t make it off the tracks before the 14,000 ton freight train came rumbling through. The Indiana Railroad released this footage of the locomotive bearing down on the women as they scrambled for their lives. The train, travelling 30 m.p.h. couldn’t stop in time, but miraculously the women managed to survive by lying down on the tracks as the freight cars sped over them.

Here’s more on what happened from the Indiana Railroad:

The person who first saw the trespassers was the engineer in the lead locomotive of a northbound, 14,000-ton Indiana Rail Road (INRD) freight train traveling at 30 mph. Imagine, if you will, rounding a curve just before a 500-foot-long, 80-foot-high bridge, only to find two subjects sitting in your train's path. The engineer followed all appropriate protocols, immediately applying an emergency brake application and repeatedly sounded the horn. However, as the subjects ran toward the opposite end of the viaduct, the engineer was helpless to do more. The ever-slowing train was still catching up to the fleeing trespassers…By the time the train came to a stop, the locomotives were off the bridge; they completely passed the point where the subjects stopped running. The engineer assumed he had just killed two people; Monroe County Sheriff's Department was quickly alerted. Miraculously, however, the two subjects survived, and escaped to a nearby vehicle and fled the scene.

July 30 2014 4:01 PM

Top Sierra Leone Ebola Doctor Dies From Virus

Last week, reports emerged that Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, had been infected with the virus. On Tuesday, Khan died. From Reuters:

The death of Sheik Umar Khan, who was credited with treating more than 100 patients, follows those of dozens of local health workers and the infection of two American medics in neighbouring Liberia, highlighting the dangers faced by staff trying to halt the disease's spread across West Africa.
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A senior doctor in Liberia died of Ebola this weekend as well, while a man who succumbed to the virus in Nigeria was reportedly a Liberian-born American whose wife lives in Minnesota. At least 672 individuals have been killed in total during the recent outbreak.

July 30 2014 3:11 PM

Sports Team Demands to Be Rewarded for Losing

The worse an NBA team is, under the league's current player-draft system, the better chance it has of being given one of the top picks in the draft. The theory goes that the worst teams need the most help, so they should get the best new players. There's a flaw in this system, though: Some teams have realized that it could be a good strategy to be as bad as possible for an extended period rather than maintaining a perpetual state of midlevel competitiveness. This intentional bottoming-out, or "tanking," for top draft picks is bad for the NBA, which was embarrassed last year as a number of different teams appeared to be purposefully fielding extremely low-quality rosters.

As a result, the NBA is trying to change the draft system so it doesn't reward bad teams quite as much for being bad. There's one hangup, ESPN reports: the Philadelphia 76ers, who say the NBA's proposed changes would unfairly undermine their team's ongoing plan to lose as many games as possible next season:

The rough draft of this plan was met with opposition by 76ers management, which is in the midst of a multiseason rebuilding project that is dependent on a high pick next year. The 76ers, sources said, are hoping to get the NBA to delay the plan's implementation for at least a year because it would act as a de facto punishment while just playing by the rules that have been in place.
The 76ers, however, may struggle to gain support from Silver or fellow teams for holding off on the changes. Philadelphia's planned sink to the bottom has caused a drag on revenues in one of the league's largest markets and has upset some other teams, sources said.
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While there will (hopefully) be a long-term payoff to the Sixers' strategy regardless of what the NBA decides, now is definitely not a great time to be one of the team's many ... er ... several fans.

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Courtesy of CSN via Philadelphia Magazine

July 30 2014 1:27 PM

Democrats on Campaign Trail Want (Michelle) Obama's Help

Currently anticipating a major-league whomping in midterm elections, some Democrats would like to see Michelle Obama engage in more hands-on campaigning this fall, Politico writes. The reasoning: She could help turn out key demographic groups and remind voters of her husband's personal appeal without reminding them of the many things he's associated with that they hate. Her popularity, unlike his, is still high:

... The DCCC, which polled its base in 67 competitive districts, found that she had an overall favorability of 77 percent: 89 percent among African-Americans, 79 percent with white women over 30, 79 percent with voters age 18 to 29.
“Demographically, she connects with the very voters that we need — women, African-Americans, young people, Hispanics. They feel a connection to her,” said DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward. “So when she can ask them personally, ‘I need you to go do this, my husband is fighting for the issues that you care about and he needs your help,’ that’s a really compelling ask and a really compelling person to be making that ask.”
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The problem: FLOTUS, Politico says, does not like campaigning for particular candidates or doing fundraising. (One imagines that her general aversion to partisan activity is part of the reason why she remains popular.) And Politico did not turn up any evidence that the dire outlook for November has of yet done anything to sway her aversion to stump-speeching and glad-handing.

Here's another question, too: If Michelle is really so popular and Barack is so lame, why shouldn't Democrats just go all the way and make her the actual president?

It could work. It could work.* (*Legally, it could not work.)

July 30 2014 10:17 AM

Many Civilians Killed (Again) at U.N. Shelter in Gaza

At least 20 people were killed in a Gaza shelter today in what the U.N. says was at least the fifth time one of its facilities for Palestinian refugees has been hit by explosives in recent weeks. From the New York Times:

The strikes came in rapid succession. At around 5 a.m. Wednesday at a United Nations school at the Jabaliya refugee camp, where 3,300 Palestinians had taken refuge from the fierce fighting in their Gaza neighborhoods, what appeared to be four Israeli artillery shells hit the compound.
One hit the street in front of the entrance, according to several witnesses. Two others hit classrooms where people were sleeping.
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The Israeli military—which continues to deny responsibility for the deaths of 16 in a similar incident last week—acknowledged that it shot toward the "vicinity" of the Abu Hussein school, which is being used as a shelter, in response to militant fire.

July 29 2014 8:55 PM

The Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi Survives, Court Rules Abortion Law Unconstitutional

A federal appeals court on Tuesday spared Mississippi’s lone surviving abortion clinic that was facing closure due to a strict state law regulating the performance of abortions. The three-judge panel ruled 2-to-1 that the law’s effective closure of the Jackson Women's Health Organization is unconstitutional because eliminating abortion services altogether in the state placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

A 2012 Mississippi law requires physicians performing abortions at a clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Attorneys for the state argued, in support of the law, if the clinic closed down, women could go to neighboring states to have abortions. “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state,” Judge Grady Jolly wrote. The panel blocked the implementation of the law until a legal challenge can be heard in court. “The ruling isn’t the final word on the law, and the appeals panel narrowed the scope of the injunction to apply only to the parties in the case,” Bloomberg reports. “As a result, any new Mississippi abortion clinics would have to file their own lawsuit.”

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Texas and Ohio have laws similar to Mississippi’s that have forced the closure of a large number of clinics in those states and a federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that Texas’ restrictions were legally valid. With Tuesday’s ruling on Mississippi’s law, however, “the judges signaled that while closing many clinics is OK, a law that forces the closure of a state's very last clinic is not,” according to NPR.

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