Women in Utah protest against the governor's decision to block federal money to local Planned Parenthood clinics.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing into the undercover sting videos that allegedly show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal parts in violation of federal law. The videos, which are the work of a secretive anti-abortion group, have been heavily and deceptively edited. Still, the hearing, like so many previous attacks on Planned Parenthood, is part of a larger campaign to strip the group of millions of federal dollars it uses to support family planning care.

The claims in the edited videos are not the only deceptive element of the hearing, which is titled "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider." In his opening statement, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) claimed that Planned Parenthood uses "much more painful methods like partial birth abortion" to better preserve fetal organs for sale. "More than 18,000 late-term, pain-capable unborn babies were torturously killed without anesthesia in America last year," he continued. "Many of them cried and screamed as they died."

The idea that abortion entails "fetal pain" is a popular anti-abortion myth—one Franks has articulated before in order to justify a 20-week ban on abortion, called the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." But that flies in the face of the medical consensus, which is that the systems necessary to sense pain are not developed until the fetus is almost full-term. The idea that fetuses "scream and cry" during abortion is also the product of a deceptive anti-abortion video: the 1984 film The Silent Scream, which purports to show a fetus contorted with pain.

The first witness, Gianna Jessen, who was born after an unsuccessful abortion, also repeated the argument that there are other facilities capable of safeguarding women's health if Planned Parenthood were to lose federal family planning funding: "We often hear that if Planned Parenthood were to be defunded, there would be a health crisis among women without the services they provide. This is absolutely false. Pregnancy resource centers are located nationwide as an option for the woman in crisis."

But pregnancy resources are only a fraction of Planned Parenthood's business: STI screenings, Pap tests, and pregnancy prevention comprise the vast majority of its activities. The group provides contraception to almost 40 percent of women who rely on public programs for family planning. And a New York Times investigation recently showed that women—particularly poor women—would face an enormous struggle to find reproductive health providers if the country's largest women's health network was no longer an option. Planned Parenthood, unlike many other providers, have a broad ability to accept Medicaid patients. The Times notes that four out of five Planned Parenthood patients have incomes below 150 percent of the poverty level at a time when two-thirds of states reported difficulties ensuring enough health providers, especially OB-GYNs, for Medicaid patients.

The CEO and chairman of United Airlines, Jeff Smisek, resigned on Tuesday after the "bridgegate" investigation that is dogging GOP presidential hopeful and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie revealed possible wrongdoing on the part of the airline.

The original investigation sought to answer whether the George Washington Bridge lane closures of September 2013, which caused massive traffic problems in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, were political payback for the Fort Lee mayor's refusal to endorse Christie for reelection. Since the start, the investigation has revolved around Christie's personal friend and top executive at the Port Authority, David Samson, who is cooperating with federal agents.

But the probe of Samson raised the possibility that United Airlines ran an illegal influence campaign to convince Samson to lower flight fees at Newark Liberty Airport and approve millions in spending to improve the airport. (The Port Authority is the airport's chief regulator.) According to WYNC, "United’s overtures included a special flight route that benefited the Port Authority’s former chairman David Samson; campaign contributions; fancy lunches and dinners; and meetings with top officials, including Christie."

United is conducting an internal investigation, but the feds are not waiting. Ahead of Smisek's resignation, investigators subpoenaed many top officials at the airline.

The "special flight route" United allegedly created for Samson ran from Newark to Columbia, close to where Samson and his wife spent the weekends. Bloomberg reports that Samson asked for the route over dinner with Smisek in a "playful, but not joking" manner:

He complained that he and his wife had grown weary of the trip to their weekend home in Aiken, South Carolina, because the best flight out of Newark was to Charlotte, North Carolina, 150 miles away. Until 2009, Continental had run direct service from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, 100 miles closer.

Samson later said the Bloomberg report "badly mischaracterizes" the meeting. A few days after Samson resigned over the bridge scandal, United stopped running the flights.

Donald Trump's latest ad, taking aim at Jeb Bush, is just the sort of measured, substantive critique you'd expect from a presidential front-runner:

 

Wake up Jeb supporters!

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue any marriage licenses because of her objection to gay marriage, was met on Thursday afternoon by a large, raucous crowd of supporters after spending over five days in jail. In front of news cameras, a visibly emotional Davis left most of the talking her lawyer, and to Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who declared Davis "an incredibly brave lady."

US District Judge David Bunning, who held Davis in contempt last Thursday, ordered her release this morning after receiving a report that the Rowan County clerk's office is now complying with the court's ruling. But the judge threatened additional sanctions if Davis impedes the process, and has called for status reports to be filed every two weeks. From The New York Times:

In a two-page order issued Tuesday, the judge who sent her to jail, David L. Bunning of the Federal District Court, said he would release Ms. Davis because he was satisfied that her office was "fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples."

Judge Bunning ordered that Ms. Davis "shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples." He he said that any such action would be regarded as "a violation" of his released order.

Still, the storm is far from over. Davis, an Apostolic Christian who cited "God's authority" in her refusal to adhere to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling ending bans on gay marriage, has gained national notoriety, provoking rallies from both sides of the issue. Heralded as a hero by Christian conservatives, she was joined by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who spoke at the rally for her release, which he helped organize.

Watch Huckabee's full post-release comments below, including his declaration that, "If somebody needs to go to jail, I'm willing to go in her place."

Six months after Freddie Gray died from a spinal injury suffered after an alleged "rough ride" in the back of a police van, the city of Baltimore has tentatively agreed to settle with Gray's family for $6.4 million. From the Times:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that the settlement with the family of Freddie Gray would be sent to the Baltimore Board of Estimates for a vote on Wednesday...

"The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial," Ms. Rawlings-Blake said. The proposed settlement will be paid as $2.8 million in the current fiscal year and $3.6 million in the year beginning in July of 2016.

Six Baltimore police officers are currently being tried on criminal charges relating to Gray's death, which sparked massive national protests in April.

The proposed settlement is close in amount to the $5.9 million agreement reached in July between New York City and the family of Eric Garner, who also died at the hands of the police, and eclipses the total $5.7 million that Baltimore has paid in all 102 alleged police misconduct cases since 2011, according to the Baltimore Sun.

On Friday, William Smith and James Yates became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky.

Since the Supreme Court's historic decision invalidating gay marriage bans nationwide in June, county clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue licenses to gay couples citing her religious beliefs. Her continued refusal to do so finally landed her in jail yesterday, after a federal judge held her in contempt of law.

US District Judge David Bunning offered to release the defiant clerk if she promised not to prevent her deputies from processing same-sex couples. Five of the six deputies have agreed to do so. Davis' son, a deputy clerk, was the only one to refuse.

Davis' husband, who insisted his family's opposition to same-sex marriages did not mean they "hate these people," was reportedly seen outside the clerk's office on Friday holding a sign, "Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah."

Smith and Yates' license effectively ends the months-long showdown.

Protesters demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally.

In the wake of last Friday's murder of a Harris County, Texas, police deputy, Fox News pundits have bent over backward to find a way to connect the killing to the Black Lives Matter movement. A guest on the Fox talk show The Five on Monday called the movement a "criminal organization," and several hosts, including Bill O'Reilly, described it as a "hate group."

Harris County law enforcement officials have yet to determine a motive for the shooting, and suspect Shannon Miles had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on a felony assault charge in 2012. But that hasn't stopped Fox News from showing a recent clip of protesters at the Minnesota State Fair chanting, "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon," as pundits discussed the Texas killing, or from running inflammatory on-screen banners that read "Murder Movement" and "Black Lives Matter Taunts Cop Killings."

But this is not a new tactic from the right. Conservatives have long attempted to discredit black social movements by casting them as criminal. In fact, the law-and-order rhetoric they've espoused since the civil rights movement was invented to do just that.

In the 1950s, for example, Southern conservative lawmakers and law enforcement officials argued that acts of civil disobedience by black civil rights activists violated the law, and they criticized support for civil rights legislation as rewarding lawbreakers. Federal courts that struck down Jim Crow laws, they chided, were soft on crime.

The number of peaceful protests dwarfs the number that have seen looting, but conservative pundits insist Black Lives Matter protesters are "thugs" and that the movement's rhetoric encourages violence.

This rhetoric went mainstream in the late 1960s following the major civil rights victories of the decade. Richard Nixon and avowed segregationist George Wallace both ran on law-and-order platforms in the 1968 presidential election. In his speeches and political ads, Nixon appealed to the "non-shouters and non-demonstrators" who were "not racist" and "not guilty of the crime that plagued the land," contrasting them with protesters who had "cities up in smoke," a thinly veiled reference to the race riots of the decade. Nixon blamed the courts for "going too far in weakening the peace forces against the criminal forces." He used this coded language to appeal to racist voters at a time when overt racism was becoming less socially acceptable.

Conservative politicians, pundits, and voters continued using this language to rail against the Black Power movement in the 1970s and tie organizations like the Black Panther Party to neighborhood crime and increased drug use. They pointed to the ongoing race riots and the increase in urban crime that accompanied the migration of black Southerners to Northern cities during that period, as evidence that the Panthers' philosophy of armed self-defense was contributing to violence and criminal activity. Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, prior to the explosion of the drug trade mid-decade, in a tough-on-crime move that functioned as a crackdown on the black people and communities that were supposedly "causing" crime, and the philosophy of racial equality that had contributed to it. (And similarly coded language was used to justify criminal-justice policies that targeted black communities and produced the nation's mass incarceration crisis in the late 1980s and 1990s.)

Now Fox News has targeted the Black Lives Matter movement in the same way. The movement is calling for an end to violence, and its national voices have condemned violence against the police on numerous occasions. But the right insists it is to blame for murders of police officers. The number of peaceful protests dwarfs the number that have seen looting and property destruction, but conservative pundits insist Black Lives Matter protesters are "thugs" and that the movement's rhetoric encourages violence. Just as they sought to discredit the movement to upset the Jim Crow social order, these right-wing voices now seek to discredit the movement to upend the current system of racist policing.

Murders of police aren't the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement. But don't expect to hear that on Fox News anytime soon.

Germany is set to take in 800,000 refugees by the end of the year.

America, a country that won two World Wars, went to the moon, and did "the other things," has taken in, well, far fewer.

Quoth the Guardian:

The US has admitted approximately 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011, mostly within the last fiscal year. Since April, the number of admitted refugees has more than doubled from an estimate of 700.

...

Anna Greene, IRC’s director of policy & advocacy for US programs, said the 1,500 people the US has admitted thus far “doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is needed and what could really make a difference”.

Oxfam wants the US to up that number to 70,000 by the end of 2016.

Correction: This post and its headline originally said that Germany planned to take in 800,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. That is incorrect. It is 800,000 refugees total. 

On Thursday, Donald Trump pledged his fealty to the Republican Party with a largely meaningless pledge not to run as an independent candidate during the 2016 campaign for the White House. In doing so, it appears the billionaire presidential hopeful also affixed the wrong date to his signature:

Brilliant.

What happens to a legal appeal when there's no court to hear it?

That's the tricky question before Kansas Republicans today as they grapple with the results of their own law, which threatens to shutter the state court system.

On Wednesday night, a district judge in Kansas struck down a 2014 law that stripped the state Supreme Court of some of its administrative powers. The ruling has set off a bizarre constitutional power struggle between the Republican-controlled legislature and the state Supreme Court. At stake is whether the Kansas court system will lose its funding and shut down.

Last year, the Kansas legislature passed a law that took away the top court's authority to appoint chief judges to the state's 31 judicial districts—a policy change Democrats believe was retribution for an ongoing dispute over school funding between the Supreme Court and the legislature. (Mother Jones reported on the standoff this spring.) When the legislature passed a two-year budget for the court system earlier this year, it inserted a clause stipulating that if a court ever struck down the 2014 administrative powers law, funding for the entire court system would be "null and void." Last night, that's what the judge did.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt warned that last night's decision “could effectively and immediately shut off all funding for the judicial branch.” That would lead to chaos. As Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney for the Kansas judge who brought the legal challenge against the administrative law, put it, “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed."

Both parties in the case have agreed to ask that Wednesday's ruling remain on hold until it can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, so that there is a functioning court to hear the appeal. On Thursday, a judge granted the stay. Meanwhile, lawyers involved in the case and advocates for judicial independence are preparing a legal challenge to the clause of the judicial budget that withholds court funding. Sometime in the next few months, the state Supreme Court is likely to rule on whether the legislature has the right to strip the Supreme Court of its administrative authority, and whether it can make funding for the courts contingent on the outcome of a court case.

“We have never seen a law like this before," Randolph Sherman, a lawyer involved in fighting the administrative law, said in a statement, referring to the self-destruct mechanism in the judicial budget. "[I]t is imperative that we stop it before it throws the state into a constitutional crisis.”

This story has been updated.