Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide

By Adam Liptak in The New York Times

 The White House was illuminated in honor of same-sex marriage.

The White House was illuminated in honor of same-sex marriage.

WASHINGTON — In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

Marriage is a “keystone of our social order,” Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, set off jubilation and tearful embraces across the country, the first same-sex marriages in several states, and resistance — or at least stalling — in others. It came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of the unions.

The court’s four more liberal justices joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Each member of the court’s conservative wing filed a separate dissent, in tones ranging from resigned dismay to bitter scorn.

Read more at The New York Times

Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?

The eminent evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has an audacious vision for saving Earth from a cataclysmic extinction event

 A bold conservation vision calls for a return to the South’s once-vast longleaf pine forests. (Carlton Ward Jr. )

A bold conservation vision calls for a return to the South’s once-vast longleaf pine forests. (Carlton Ward Jr. )

By Tony Hiss in Smithsonian Magazine

“Battles are where the fun is,” said E.O. Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist, “and where the most rapid advances are made.” We were sitting in oversized rocking chairs in a northwest Florida guest cottage with two deep porches and half-gallons of butter-pecan ice cream in the freezer, a Wilson favorite. He’d invited me here to look at what he considers a new approach to conservation, a new ecological Grail that, naturally, won’t happen without a fight.

Wilson, 85, is the author of more than 25 books, many of which have changed scientific understanding of human nature and of how the living part of the planet is put together.

Known as the father of sociobiology, he is also hailed as the pre-eminent champion of biodiversity: Wilson coined the word “biophilia” to suggest that people have an innate affinity for other species, and his now widely accepted “theory of island biogeography” explains why national parks and all confined landscapes inevitably lose species. He grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, and has been at Harvard for over 60 years but still calls himself “a Southern boy who came north to earn a living.” He is courtly, twinkly, soft-spoken, has a shock of unruly white hair, and is slightly stooped from bending over to look at small things all his life—he’s the world’s leading authority on ants. Wilson has earned more than a hundred scientific awards and other honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. And perhaps his most urgent project is a quest to refute conservation skeptics who think there isn’t enough left of the natural world to be worth saving.

Throughout the 544 million or so years since hard-shelled animals first appeared, there has been a slow increase in the number of plants and animals on the planet, despite five mass extinction events. The high point of biodiversity likely coincided with the moment modern humans left Africa and spread out across the globe 60,000 years ago. As people arrived, other species faltered and vanished, slowly at first and now with such acceleration that Wilson talks of a coming “biological holocaust,” the sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused not by some cataclysm but by a single species—us.

Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.

“It’s been in my mind for years,” Wilson told me, “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”

Ranches owned by Ted Turner Enterprises are home to 51,000 bison--the world's largest private herd.

Ranches owned by Ted Turner Enterprises are home to 51,000 bison–the world’s largest private herd.

Like Wilson, M.C. Davis is a tireless, elaborately courteous Southern charmer. But Wilson himself is quick to point out a difference: “I only write about saving biodiversity. He’s actually doing it.”

Davis’ idea has been to revive the “Piney Woods,” the signature ecosystem of the American Southeast. The longleaf pine forest once covered 90 million acres, or about 60 percent of the land, in a virtually continuous 1,200-mile stretch across nine states from Virginia to East Texas. That forest has been reduced by 97 percent, and there are about three million acres of it left. That’s more catastrophic than what has happened to coral reefs (10 percent to 20 percent destroyed) or the Amazon rainforest (more than 20 percent). The longleaf pine forest’s “Big Cut,” as it’s still known, began after the Civil War and left behind what commentators referred to as “a sea of stumps.” Much of the land has since been reforested, but de-longleafed, and is now planted with row after row of faster-growing pines raised for pulpwood.

Davis, a commodities trader in timber and oil and gas rights, who grew up 65 miles west of his forest, is jovial, folksy, forceful, slightly rumpled-looking, unassuming (“I’m a dirt-road, Panhandle guy”). But for the past decade he has been spending half a million dollars a year planting longleaf pine trees and another half million on other parts of a longleaf forest.

Davis remembers his awakening. He got stuck in a big pileup on I-4 near Tampa, saw a high-school marquee with the sign “Black Bear Seminar” and walked in the door: “There was an old drunk, and a politician who’d thought there’d be a crowd, and a couple of Canadians looking for day-old doughnuts and coffee—and, up on the stage, two women talking about saving black bears. They were riveting. The next day I gave those ladies enough money to keep going for another two years, which I think scared them, it was so out of the blue. Then I asked them for a 100-book environmental reading list for me, for my education. I spent a year reading Thoreau, John Muir, Ed Wilson. Then I started buying up land to see what I could do.”

To honor Wilson, Davis built the dazzling, $12 million E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center at one edge of Nokuse, where thousands of fourth through seventh graders from six counties get free classes that let them hold real baby gopher tortoises and clamber and pose for pictures on a giant ant sculpture.

Wilson regards Nokuse as part of “the final stage of conservation.” Back in 1871, the United States electrified the world by inventing the national park, setting aside 2.2 million acres, an area larger than Delaware, to create Yellowstone National Park as a public “pleasuring ground.” (The world now has 5,000 national parks among its 200,000 protected areas.) Half a century ago, the vision expanded. Fifty years ago this month, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which for the first time permanently protected land for its own sake, establishing a National Wilderness Preservation System of areas where “the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man is only a visitor who does not remain.” This was hailed as securing the “freedom of the wilderness”; Wilson would call it “the conservation of eternity.” The 9.1 million acres of American wilderness protected in 1964 have since grown to 109.5 million acres (4 percent of the country), thanks to citizen groups working on behalf of the rest of life.

Read more at Smithsonian Magazine

Why Is Socialist Bernie Sanders So Popular?

Berniemania! Why Is Socialist Bernie Sanders So Popular? – The New York Observer

Brooklyn-born, Vermont-fueled, Bernie Sanders promises a revolution if he’s somehow elected president next year. Does Hillary have to watch her back?

(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)

(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)

Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, violates most laws of American politics. He proudly calls himself a socialist, a label vilified by Republicans and avoided by most Democrats. He is not outwardly charming; he rarely glad-hands and his speeches are often mirthless. Like a modern day Jonathan Edwards, who found Eugene V. Debs rather than Jesus Christ, he thunders about the dying middle class and oligarchies eroding democracy. Cross him, like one camera-holding man who yapped at him in Keene to take a position on the Edward Snowden affair, and earn a stern rebuke. Why wouldn’t he answer the man’s question? “Because you’re rude, and you’re shouting out things and I don’t really like that,” Mr. Sanders groused.

Despite a thorny approach to retail campaigning, Mr. Sanders’ quest for the White House is on an upswing. Last week, a Wisconsin Democratic Party straw poll showed Mr. Sanders trailing Ms. Clinton only 49 to 41 percent among delegates. On Observer.com, Brent Budowsky wrote, “There is a very real prospect that Mr. Bernie Sanders wins an outright victory in the Iowa caucus.” Donations are flooding in; he raised $1.5 million in the 24-hour period after he announced his candidacy in early May. He has since raised cash from more than 100,000 individual donors.

For a long time, Mr. Sanders’ unbridled liberalism was out of vogue. The Clintons, slashing the welfare rolls and deregulating Wall Street, ruled the booming 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed; some socialists had lost a lodestar, though Mr. Sanders firmly insisted it was the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries, and not the authoritarianism of Russia, that he extolled.

A Sanders supporter in Keene underscored this point, gently chastising a reporter for asking whether an avowed socialist could win over voters nationwide.

“He’s a democratic socialist, like another celebrated Jewish socialist—Jesus,” he said.

Still, after a one-term African-American senator with a funny name rose from nowhere to whip Hillary Clinton, the Sanders faithful are suddenly asking, And why not Bernie? What seems more far-fetched: Barack Hussein Obama, around 2007, becoming leader of the Free World or a socialist Jew (a member of Congress for 24 years and former mayor, to boot) becoming president in 2016? (Never mind Mr. Obama was telegenic and three decades younger.)

Read more at The New York Observer

A crisis for seniors who rely on Social Security

 By Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) - 06/10/15 05:31 PM EDT Photo credit:  Greg Nash

By Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) – 06/10/15 05:31 PM EDT Photo credit: Greg Nash

It seems every time we talk about the long-term future of Social Security, many in Washington start clamoring to raise the retirement age or propose other ways to trim Social Security’s modest benefits. Those calling for cuts are missing the dire state of retirement security for the typical American. Traditional pensions have become a thing of the past, and stagnant wages are making it harder and harder to put aside savings. For the two-thirds of retirees who rely on Social Security for a majority of their income, there is not a Social Security crisis, there is a retirement crisis. That is why we must preserve and enhance the one program Americans have always been able to count on.

Just the other week I sat down with seniors in Glastonbury, Conn., to discuss our nation’s retirement crisis. These men and women hail from all walks of life: veterans, small-business owners, homemakers and machinists. They’ve built and rebuilt this country through wars and recessions. I spoke with one man who spent his life as a lineman, his fingers now crooked and gnarled from a lifetime helping to usher America into the Digital Age. Can we really in good conscience ask the millions of men and women, who have already given so much, to keep pushing well past their breaking point? How does it make sense to push the retirement age ever higher or cut benefits at a time when people need them most?

We can shore up Social Security for future generations without needlessly slashing benefits for people like those seniors in Glastonbury or their children and grandchildren. That is why I have been joined by more than 60 of my colleagues in putting forth H.R. 1391, the Social Security 2100 Act.

Rather than cut benefits or hike the retirement age, this proposal would increase benefits across the board. It would provide a better cost-of-living adjustment that would reflect the true cost seniors incur, such as higher medical expenses. It would also ensure that those who have paid into the system won’t retire into poverty by increasing minimum payments. Because more seniors are working into their retirement years, this proposal provides a tax cut to 11 million beneficiaries by raising the level of income individuals and couples can earn before their Social Security benefits are taxed. All of these provisions will strengthen and enhance Social Security for current beneficiaries and generations to come.

The Social Security 2100 Act keeps the system solvent for the next 75 years and beyond, according to the independent analysis of the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, and does so without cutting benefits or contributing a dime to the deficit.

How do we do this? First, we ask individuals making more than $400,000 a year to contribute into Social Security in the same way as the rest of us. Currently, those with earnings above $118,500 no longer have to pay into the system. To put it another way, LeBron James has made his yearly contribution to Social Security by about lunchtime on New Year’s Day.

Second, we slowly introduce an increase to the contributions both workers and employers make. Over the span of 25 years, it would mean an additional 0.05 percent each year. A worker making $50,000 a year would pay an additional 50 cents per week each year to Social Security.

Read more at The Hill

Have Turkish Voters Renounced Islamist Dictatorship?

Turkey sees end of single party gov’t as AK Party vote drops significantly – Today’s Zaman

800px-Turkish-flag.svg

By Nevit Dilmen (Image:Turkishflag.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

After 13 years of domination as a single-party government, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been receiving growing criticism for pursuing highly divisive, authoritarian and repressive policies, saw a significant erosion of support in Sunday’s election and it failed to secure the 276 seats in the Parliament necessary to continue its single-party rule for another term.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP), which opted to run as a party in this election for the first time, rather than fielding independent candidates to circumvent the country’s 10 percent election threshold, managed to pass the barrier, which reduced the number of seats in Parliament that would have otherwise gone to the AK Party. Hence, the establishment of a coalition government is back on Turkey’s agenda after more than a decade.

The unofficial results of the election, which many said was more like a referendum in that would determine the fate and political future of the country – becoming either more authoritarian or denying President Erdoğan the changes he aspires to and curbing his power – indicated that the AK Party received 40.6 percent, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 25.3 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) received 16 percent while the HDP, which widened its appeal beyond its core Kurdish vote to center-left and secularist segments disillusioned with Erdoğan, received 12.7 percent of the nationwide vote. These percentages translate into 257 seats for the AK Party, 131 for the CHP, 83 for the MHP and 79 for the HDP.

Sunday’s vote was held amid concerns of vote rigging, prompting more than 50,000 people to sign up to serve as election monitors. The fears were not without reason, as last year’s local elections, held on March 30, were overshadowed by allegations of election fraud due to the discrepancies between the numbers recorded at polling stations and those actually entered into the country’s election authority, the Higher Election Board (YSK), in addition to suspicious power outages taking place across 22 provinces during the vote count.

On Sunday, the mood was tense at some polling stations, particularly in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, after a bombing on Friday killed two people and wounded at least 200 at an election rally for the HDP, which has been a frequent target of violence in the run-up to the polls.

Read more at Today’s Zaman

‘Don’t Underestimate Me’: Bernie Sanders Knows a Thing or Two About Winning

Senator Bernie Sanders (AP/ John Locher)

Senator Bernie Sanders (AP/ John Locher)

By John Nichols in The Nation

Burlington, Vermont— For the first century after the founding of the Grand Old Party in 1854, Republicans dominated the politics of the state of Vermont like no other. For more than 100 years, Vermont Republicans won every major race for every statewide office. Republican presidential candidates from John Fremont in 1856 to George H.W. Bush in 1988—with the single exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964—won the Green Mountain State. For one of Vermont’s US Senate seats, an unbroken Republican winning streak continued from before the Civil War to the beginning of the 21st century.

Only in 2006 was the Senate seat streak broken with the election of a candidate who was not a Republican.

His name was Bernie Sanders.

Of all the announced and potential contenders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, none has a longer track record of taking on tough races, beating incumbents, and upsetting the political calculus. Sanders has won 14 elections in Vermont, including ten straight races for the US House and US Senate as the most politically successful and longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.

Read more at The Nation

George W. Bush’s CIA Briefer: Bush and Cheney Falsely Presented WMD Intelligence to Public

By David Corn in Mother Jones

On “Hardball,” Michael Morell concedes the Bush administration misled the nation into the Iraq War.

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell is sworn in as he testifes before the House Intelligence Committee. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell is sworn in as he testifes before the House Intelligence Committee. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

For a dozen years, the Bush-Cheney crowd have been trying to escape—or cover up—an essential fact of the W. years: President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants misled the American public about the WMD threat supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein in order to grease the way to the invasion of Iraq. For Bush, Cheney, and the rest, this endeavor is fundamental; it is necessary to protect the legitimacy of the Bush II presidency. Naturally, Karl Rove and other Bushies have quickly tried to douse the Bush-lied-us-into-war fire whenever such flames have appeared. And in recent days, as Jeb Bush bumbled a question about the Iraq War, he and other GOPers have peddled the fictitious tale that his brother launched the invasion because he was presented lousy intelligence. But now there’s a new witness who will make the Bush apologists’ mission even more impossible: Michael Morell, a longtime CIA official who eventually became the agency’s deputy director and acting director. During the preinvasion period, he served as Bush’s intelligence briefer.

Appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday night, Morell made it clear: The Bush-Cheney administration publicly misrepresented the intelligence related to Iraq’s supposed WMD program and Saddam’s alleged links to Al Qaeda.

Host Chris Matthews asked Morell about a statement Cheney made in 2003: “We know he [Saddam Hussein] has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Here’s the conversation that followed:

MATTHEWS: Was that true?

MORELL: We were saying—

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Was that true?

MORELL: That’s not true.

MATTHEWS: Well, why’d you let them get away with it?

Read more at Mother Jones

Bernie Sanders is more serious than you think

Give ‘Em Hell, Bernie

 Bernie Sanders’ entrance into the 2016 presidential race isn't a footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Win McNamee/Getty

Bernie Sanders’ entrance into the 2016 presidential race isn’t a footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Win McNamee/Getty

By Matt Taibbi April 29, 2015

Many years ago I pitched a magazine editor on a story about Bernie Sanders, then a congressman from Vermont, who’d agreed to something extraordinary – he agreed to let me, a reporter, stick next to him without restrictions over the course of a month in congress.

“People need to know how this place works. It’s absurd,” he’d said. (Bernie often uses the word absurd, his Brooklyn roots coming through in his pronunciation – ob-zert.)

Bernie wasn’t quite so famous at the time and the editor scratched his head. “Bernie Sanders,” he said. “That’s the one who cares, right?”

“Right, that’s the guy,” I said.

I got the go-ahead and the resulting story was a wild journey through the tortuous bureaucratic maze of our national legislature. I didn’t write this at the time, but I was struck every day by what a strange and interesting figure Sanders was.

Many of the battles he brought me along to witness, he lost. And no normal politician would be comfortable with the optics of bringing a Rolling Stone reporter to a Rules Committee hearing.

But Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can’t protect themselves, I’ve never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.

This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

Here’s the thing: Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters.

Read more at Rolling Stone

The unbearable dumbness of American as*holery

Via the Daily Kos

Via the Daily Kos

By One Pissed Off Liberal in the Daily Kos

Fight dumbassery everywhere you see it. We’ve been way too tolerant.

Sure, it’s your right to say whatever you want no matter how stupid or hateful, but is it a good idea? Are you doing yourself or society any favors? It’s your perfect right to be an idiot but your idiocy, once loosed upon the general public, is another matter. You don’t have the moral right to make other people suffer because you’re stupid. Sometimes life is about more than what you have a right to do, but what you should or shouldn’t do within the context of civilized society – which I submit, we should be aiming for. Civilization seems a worthy goal at this point.

America should be ashamed of producing so many stupid people. Virtually every one of whom has or had the potential to shine, and it was just never realized because we as a society are neglectful, especially of the poor and working classes. We do not have universal education any more than we have universal health care. In many cases, the poor just have a pipeline to prison.

There are aspects of our society, such as the failure to provide high quality education and social support to all, that encourage a culture of dumbassery. Think Confederate flag. Think prophet cartoons. Think sheer ignorance and cultural insensitivity.

I think virtually every human has the innate capacity to rise above such cultural backwardness. I think they have Ferrari brains like everyone else, they just never learn to shift gears. No one teaches them. They spend their whole lives driving a Ferrari poorly and never get it out of first gear. In that state, they are susceptible to dumbassery.

Two people are dead and one wounded because a bunch of dumbass macho yahoos down in Texas (who could have been so much more) thought it’d be cute to have a ‘draw the prophet’ contest…to prove they weren’t afraid of Sharia law and shit.

Read it all at the Daily Kos