Breaking: Republicans Take Control Of Senate For First Time In 8 Years

According to WaPo and everyone:

Republicans won control of the Senate Tuesday evening as GOP candidates across the country swept to victory in crucial midterm elections, reflecting widespread unease about the nation’s direction and the electorate’s disenchantment with President Obama.

The GOP took control of Democratic held seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, giving the party seven additional senators. It had needed six to control the chamber for the first time since 2007.

The rapid-fire victories represented a repudiation of the president, who rode into office on a mantle of change in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 but whose second term has bogged down in a problems ranging from crises abroad to the arrival of Ebola in the United States. Throughout the hard-fought the campaign, Obama was a target of Republican candidates and in the end was reduced to campaigning only in secure Democratic bastions.

Eric Holder To Resign As Attorney General Of The United States

In news this blog finds both surprising and upsetting, Eric Holder, an effective champion of civil rights while working under the Obama Administration, will be resigning his position as Attorney General. Via NPR:

Holder most wants to be remembered for his record on civil rights: refusing to defend a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman; suing North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly; launching 20 investigations of abuses by local police departments; and using his bully pulpit to lobby Congress to reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes. Many of those sentences disproportionately hurt minority communities.

 

Israel has invaded Gaza

Tragic day. Israel has invaded Gaza, prevailing against the best efforts of the Knesset’s cooler heads. NYT has more information:

Israel began a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, saying it would target tunnels that infiltrate its territory after cease-fire talks failed to de-escalate the air war that has raged for 10 days.

The military released a statement at 10:39 p.m. saying the goal of the operation was to “establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror.”

Palestinians and journalists in Gaza reported heavy artillery fire from ground troops in the north and Israeli gunboats stationed near Gaza’s port as well as a continuing air assault. The strikes were aimed at a rehabilitation hospital and, earlier killed four young children as they played on a roof. At the same time, scores of rockets from Gaza continued to stream into cities all over central and southern Israel.

The war between the country and its occupied territory has escalated significantly this week. In another tragic moment, four boys were killed by an Israeli rocket while playing at a beach. Also from NYT:

The four dead boys came quickly to symbolize how the Israeli aerial assaults in Gaza are inevitably killing innocents in this crowded, impoverished sliver of land along the Mediterranean Sea. They stood out because they were inarguably blameless, children who simply wanted to play on their favorite beach, near the fishing port where their large extended family keeps its boats.

The killings also crystallized the conundrum for the 1.7 million Gazans trapped between Israel’s powerful military machine and the militants of Hamas and its affiliates, who fire rockets into Israel with little regard for how the response affects Gazans. Virtually imprisoned by the border controls of Israel and, increasingly, Egypt, most Gazans have nothing to do with the perennial conflict but cannot escape it

Breaking News: Justice Alito Is A Shmuck And Corporations Are People But Workers And Women Aren’t

Welcome to the USA, everyone. Today the SCOTUS has decided that companies can deny their employees contraception coverage because women aren’t people, and public unions can’t make nonmembers pay fees because why ever would we need to do that. On the former from  NPR:

The Supreme Court has ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held for-profit corporations can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for no-cost prescription contraception in most health insurance plans. The companies’ owners had objected on the grounds of religious freedom.

The ruling affirms a Hobby Lobby victory in a lower court and gives new standing to similar claims by other companies.

The justices announced their decision Monday morning. We’ll update this post as more information and analysis about the ruling emerge.

The case, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, is perhaps the most important decision of the high court’s term, legal analysts say. Burwell, you’ll recall, is Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who became secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services early this month.

Here’s a quick summary of the issue from NPR’s Nina Totenberg:

“In enacting the ACA, Congress required large employers to provide basic preventive care for employees. That includes all birth control methods approved by the FDA. Under the law, religious non-profits were exempted from this requirement, but for-profit corporations were not.
“The Hobby Lobby corporation, which has 500 stores and 16,000 employees, objects to some forms of birth control on religious grounds. 
“But the government points to a long line of cases holding that for-profit companies may not use religion as a basis for failing to comply with generally applicable laws.”

Hobby Lobby and other companies that don’t want to cover contraception cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “provides that the government ‘shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’ unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest,” says the overview of the case by SCOTUSBlog.

There are also financial considerations in play.

“Hobby Lobby owners contend that the ACA contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on them because failure to comply results in big fines — $26 million a year for Hobby Lobby if it opts out of providing insurance altogether,” Nina reported in March. “Supporters of the mandate counter that $26 million may be a lot of money, but it is less than the company currently spends on insurance.”

Earlier this month, Julie Rovner ran down some of the specifics about the companies’ resistance.

Hobby Lobby is owned by the Green family, she said, who are evangelical Christians, “and the Hahn family that owns Pennsylvania cabinet-maker Conestoga Wood Specialties are Mennonites.”

While both companies already include many forms of birth control in their health plans, Julie reported, “The owners say they are opposed to some forms of birth control — particularly emergency contraceptives Plan B and Ella, which can be used to prevent pregnancy if taken within 24 hours to as much as five days after unprotected sex — because these contraceptives prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus.”

Breaking: Obama to sign order banning contractors from discriminating against the LGBTQ community

Via WaPo:

President Obama will sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against gays, lesbians and others on the basis of their sexual orientation – an election-year move that follows years of pressure by gay rights organizations.

Obama’s decision to proceed with the executive order, announced Monday by the White House, immediately delighted gay rights groups, even as it signaled that Obama doesn’t believe broader action by Congress is likely. Obama is set to address a fundraiser hosted by the Democratic National Committee’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender council Tuesday in New York.

“The President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” a White House official said in a statement. “The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

White House officials didn’t detail the timing of the executive order, which Obama originally promised to pursue in his 2008 campaign. For years since, he has declined to issue the order, citing other administration efforts to advance gay rights and a desire to avoid interfering with efforts in Congress to pass the broader Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination against gays in the workplace. The Senate has passed ENDA, but the House has declined.

Sunday Findings: This is a post about Texas and a post about rainbows

Happy Sunday, all. It’s hot and sunny in the District. This blog is bouncing around, but as always supports all things queer and all things Texan. On that note…

Via Autostraddle:

Many of Texas’s major cities are rejecting the hardline GOP stance. At the end of May, Houston passed HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that advances the rights of LGB and trans people in housing, public accommodations, employment and more. The ordinance also includes race, military service, disability, sex, pregnancy and other groups in its protections. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, called it her “most personally satisfying” act as mayor. The cities of Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, San Antonio, Waco, Brownsville and Walker and Dallas Counties also prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. Public support for marriage equality is increasing steadily — a recent poll from Texas Tech University found that 48% support it and 47% oppose it. And in 2012 the Texas Democratic Party became the first southern Democratic Party to include same-sex marriage in its platform. The state’s marriage ban is currently going through the U.S. Court of Appeals after a U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled it unconstitutional in February.

So I understand why the GOP is scared. They’ve gotten pretty comfortable holding every statewide office and a majority in both houses of the legislature for the last couple decades. They’re digging their heels into the sand as the tide turns. But hateful platform language and fist shaking will not stop the ocean. Texas is too big to smother with such small ideas. My queerness doesn’t need repairing, but the GOP does.

 

News of the Day: Karachi Airport Attacked

Via CNN:

Clashes at Pakistan’s largest and busiest airport left more than 20 people dead after militants armed with grenades stormed into a cargo area Sunday.

Violence erupted at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi around 11:30 p.m. Sunday and raged on for more than five hours as security forces fought off attackers, leaving some passengers trapped inside the airport.

Officials at Jinnah Hospital in Karachi said the dead included eight members of airport security forces, two Pakistan International Airlines employees and one ranger.

Photos: Attack on Pakistani airport
Photos: Attack on Pakistani airport

Ten militants were also killed in the clashes, said Niaz Abbasi, home secretary of Sindh province. The attack ended Monday morning, and authorities were securing the area, Abbasi said.

Breaking: Wisconsin’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down

Happy Pride weekend, DC. Here’s some excellent news, via WaPo and WaPo:

 

It wasn’t clear whether U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s 88-page ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin immediately. But the ruling makes Wisconsin the 27th state where same-sex couples can marry under law or where a judge has ruled they ought to be allowed to wed.

County clerks in Milwaukee and Madison said they had just learned of the decision and were trying to figure out if and when they could begin issuing marriage licenses. Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said he was keeping his office open while an attorney reviewed the decision in case he could begin accepting marriage licenses Friday evening.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of four gay couples, then later expanded to eight, challenging Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. Messages left with ACLU’s attorneys were not immediately returned Friday.

A spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office defended the law in court, did not immediately return a message.

The lawsuit alleged that Wisconsin’s ban violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, asserting the prohibition deprives gay couples of the legal protections that married couples enjoy simply because of their gender.

State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Breaking: Jay Carney steps down as White House press secretary

It’s a day of resignations. Jay Carney is the second press secretary to leave the Obama administration. He will be replaced by Josh Earnest, his deputy. From WaPo and NBC:

 

President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance Friday to announce that his chief spokesman Jay Carney is leaving his post behind the podium.

Obama called Carney one of his closest advisers and friends at the White House in remarks to the press in the White House briefing room.

 

Deputy Josh Earnest will take over the job as the president’s press secretary.

“Today the flak jacket is officially passed to a new generation,” he said of Earnest.

Breaking: Shinseki resigns

The head of the VA is stepping down. Video and NYT:

 

Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities.

In a statement Friday morning after the meeting, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Shinseki had offered his resignation from the post he has held since the beginning of the presidnet’s administration. “With regret, I accepted,” Mr. Obama said.

“He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problem,” the president said, adding that Mr. Shinseki told him that “the V.A. needs new leadership to address it. He does not want to be a distraction.”

Mr. Shinseki, 71, had said for weeks that he wanted to stay in his job to confront accusations that officials at the department’s hospitals had manipulated waiting lists to cover up long delays in scheduling appointments for thousands of veterans.

In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, he apologized and described his agency as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the V.A. medical center in Phoenix, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.