Tag Archives: special

A Vet Turns to Farming to Heal His Wounds

Mother Jones

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Alex Sutton sorts through all of his prescribed medications. His regimen at the time included anxiety medication and pills that helped him deal with depression, nightmares, and low energy issues.

Alex Sutton is a decorated US Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq. Raised by his grandparents in Iowa, he joined the Army at 17, and served 13 years in the military. He has been wounded in combat and received the Purple Heart for his injuries. In 2011, he was honorably discharged and medically retired, and took up residence on an isolated farm in rural North Carolina with his fiancée Jessica. They raise heritage breed chickens, along with some pigs and sheep.

Beyond his physical wounds, Alex carries the weight of serious, and chronic, post-traumatic stress. The couple is dead set on healing his mental wounds through rigorous farm work and the space of time; however, healing from PTSD is a nonlinear process. In Alex’s case, it encompassed periods, even weeks, of progress punctuated with deep periods of depression and the constant fear of flashbacks and nightmares.

It’s a story playing out in similar ways in thousands of homes around the country. More than 393,000 US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans Health Administration. Meanwhile, a majority of US farms are in their last generation with no family members to carry on the tradition—40 percent of farmers are over the age of 65. Groups like SAVE Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition are pushing to reintegrate vets into civilian life and the workforce through farming.

The new film Farmer/Veteran follows Alex and Jessica’s story as they attempt to soothe some of the mental wounds of war through agricultural therapy. Farmer/Veteran premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 29th.

Alex decided to sell some of his tactical weapons as a result of discussions with his psychologist. He has a kid on the way, and he says he is trying to leave the soldier part of his life behind. He will keep a few handguns and hunting rifles, but feels that selling his military style weaponry will help in his recovery.

Alex holds one of the many birds on his farm. Alex and his fiancée Jessica initially raised hundreds of heritage breed birds before the workload became too difficult to manage.

Jessica sits on her four-wheeler as Alex fishes. When he has bad days, he goes down to the pond on the farm to settle his mind and try and calm down.

On the way to a fishing trip on Badin Lake, Alex stops for bait fish.

Alex baits a hook while fishing on Badin Lake. Fishing is one of the few things that can calm his nerves.

A shot pheasant waits to be cleaned at a Patriot Hunts event for veterans from the Airborne and Special Forces communities. Alex served with the 82nd Airborne and has attended a few of these events that bring together vets from the region.

Jessica stands at the bed of the Sutton’s truck after a Patriot Hunts event.

A rifle cartridge sits on a table at the Sutton residence next to a mailer about veteran medical benefits.

Cattle push and bellow in a pen at a livestock auction in rural North Carolina. The Suttons came to try and a buy a cow or two and ended up with two alpacas, which Alex bought on a whim.

Alex and Jessica wait for the birth of their first child. After losing custody of his first daughter (from a previous marriage) after returning from his third tour in Iraq, Alex has always wanted, but feared, the arrival of his first child in his new relationship.

Alex shows his new haircut.

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A Vet Turns to Farming to Heal His Wounds

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Dropping Shoe Watch: "Every Day He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron"

Mother Jones

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The Daily Beast has talked to a bunch of folks close to Donald Trump, and as usual they can’t help themselves:

“Okay, he fired Comey,” the official conceded. “With a semi-competent comms operation, that would blow over in 24 hours. And that’s the worst part: he has a competent comms staff. But they can’t do their jobs because he keeps running his mouth.

….Trump’s repeated media missteps have frustrated even longtime supporters. “Every day he looks more and more like a complete moron,” said one senior administration official who also worked on Trump’s campaign. “I can’t see Trump resigning or even being impeached, but at this point I wish he’d grow a brain and be the man that he sold himself as on the campaign.”

Asked whether an administration staff change-up would ameliorate this latest crisis, a Republican source formerly involved with a pro-Trump political group told The Daily Beast, “yes, if it comes with a frontal lobotomy for Trump.”

Remember, these are people who are on Team Trump. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Trump is already working on ways to sabotage its own special counsel:

The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

….Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said….Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Hmmm. Preventing the special counsel from investigating Manafort hardly seems worth the trouble. He’s not close enough to the White House to cause too many problems even if he does turn out to be involved in something fishy. So that leaves Kushner. Is he the guy the Trumpies are trying to protect?

On the bright side of all this, if you have some embarrassing news you’ve been waiting to release, now would be a good time. It’s almost sure to be forgotten as soon as the next Trump shoe drops, which will probably take no more than a few hours.

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Dropping Shoe Watch: "Every Day He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron"

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Special Counsel Appointed for Trump-Russia Investigation

Mother Jones

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And then there was a special prosecutor. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Justice Department announced that Robert Mueller, who preceded James Comey as FBI director, would be appointed special counsel to investigate ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

“If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters,” the letter appointing Mueller says.

The decision was made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The responsibility fell to him because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from matters involving the Russia scandal after it was revealed that Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Mueller was appointed to the FBI by former President George W. Bush; he led the bureau from 2001 to 2013.

“He’s totally incorruptible,” Dave Gomez, a former FBI agent who served nearly 30 years in the agency, says of Mueller. “And the agents and the executives at the FBI know and trust him to finish the job.”

Mueller assumes control of an investigation already well underway. NBC News reported Wednesday evening that there are now multiple grand jury subpoenas relating to Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, and Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager.

“Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” Rosenstein said in a statement, “and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result.”

Rosenstein reportedly didn’t clear the decision with the White House in advance, only giving Trump’s staff a 30-minute warning that the announcement was forthcoming.

The White House issued a brief statement from Trump following Wednesday’s announcement. (The president’s Twitter account, so far, has been unusually silent.)

This is a developing story that has been updated.

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Special Counsel Appointed for Trump-Russia Investigation

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Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

Mother Jones

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Jon Ossoff’s near win in the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That’s a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives a pretty good idea about what really happened:

This is a district that’s been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district and a Trump effect specific to 2016.

During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it’s not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There’s a long-term Democratic tailwind and an incumbency effect specific to 2017.

If Ossoff wins the runoff—or loses a close race—it’s unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I’m not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we’ll take another crack at it.

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Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

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This Clever Legal Strategy Could Take Down the Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald

Mother Jones

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Last Thursday, prosecutors announced that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is facing new criminal charges in the fatal October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm—one count, apparently, for each bullet he fired at McDonald. Van Dyke had previously been indicted on charges of first-degree murder and misconduct in office. Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon filed the new indictment—which included the original charges—to replace the first one.

All of which begs a few questions: Why would prosecutors charge Van Dyke separately for each bullet he fired? How common are these kinds of charges in shooting cases? And how likely is it that a jury will buy the argument that Van Dyke committed 16 separate felonies?

To get some answers, I reached out to Robert Milan, previously the No. 2 prosecutor in the state’s attorney’s office for Cook County, which includes Chicago. Milan has personally tried more than 100 shooting cases, he says, and “I’ve never seen charges shot by shot.”

Prosecutors, he says, may have filed the aggravated assault charges to preempt the defense’s inevitable argument that Van Dyke had the authority to use deadly force to protect himself and others, or to prevent McDonald—who was wielding a knife and had reportedly attempted to break into cars—from committing a violent felony.

Jurors would consider the battery charges in addition to (not in place of) first-degree murder. So prosecutors could ask the judge to instruct the jury to consider Van Dyke’s self-defense claim only for the bullets he fired before McDonald fell to the ground, on the grounds that the claim no longer applied after McDonald was down.

“If Van Dyke gets the total defense instruction for the entire act, I’m sure prosecutors are concerned that it covers all 16 shots,” Milan said. But “if the judge buys it, and Van Dyke doesn’t get that instruction, then that defense goes flying out the window for those shots. I really think that’s what they’re doing here.”

Which means, even if jurors find Van Dyke not guilty of murder and not guilty of the battery charges attached to the first few bullets, they could still potentially convict him on battery charges for the later bullets. The prosecutor’s strategy seems tailored to counter the special consideration a police office usually receives in shooting cases: “He’s covering his bases. Doing what a good prosecutor would do.”

Van Dyke’s attorneys have tried to get the charges in the original indictment thrown out on the grounds that former Chicago prosecutor Anita Alvarez had tainted the grand jury process with “irregularities.” Alvarez—who lost a re-election bid last year in part because of voter dissatisfaction with her handling of the case—was under pressure to secure an indictment against Van Dyke. She filed the charges in November 2015, just hours before the city—under court order—released police footage of the shooting.

Van Dyke’s next court hearing is scheduled for April 20. His attorneys say they intend to file a motion to have the new charges dismissed. Milan says they may argue that Van Dyke should be charged with only one count of battery, since the 16 bullets were part of a single incident—but the judge is unlikely to oblige. “Bottom line is you have this videotape showing what took place. The burden is not high to get somebody indicted and to lay it out there,” Milan says. “I don’t see this case getting dismissed prior to trial.”

If Van Dyke were convicted of multiple battery counts, the sentences—ranging anywhere from 6 to 30 years in Illinois state prison—could be served concurrently. Milan won’t speculate on how a jury might rule, but he agrees that if the prosecutor’s strategy succeeds, it could easily spread to police shooting cases in other places.

Caution: This video of the shooting, while relevant, is graphic and disturbing.

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This Clever Legal Strategy Could Take Down the Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald

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