Monthly Archives: December 2016

Obama (Belatedly) Takes Action Against Russian Hackers

Moments ago, the Obama administration struck back at Russia, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:

  • Shutting down two compounds, one in in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
  • Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
  • Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” President Obama said in a statement.

In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.

As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove, Long Island.

The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in his statement.  Meaning, covert stuff.

Here’s a poster:

And here’s the FBI White Paper on the issue:

Paul Ryan throws in muted support saying, “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Moscow was quick to respond:

And whose side will President-elect Trump take? Obama’s?  Unlikely.  Ryan’s (“About time you terrible Obama person!”)?  Or Russia’s (“Nyet!!”)?

Anyone want to guess?

He’s quiet now but I doubt that’ll last.

UPDATE: 

RIP Everybody — How 2016 Became A Year Of Dying Dangerously

Pat Harrington died on January 6, 2016.  He played Dwayne Schneider, the nosy superintendent in the 1970s sitcom “One Day At A Time”.  I remember reading about his death.  I may have even blogged about it.  But it wasn’t altogether startling.  I had barely given the actor any thought since that series was cancelled.  And he was 86.  So, it was another celebrity death.  You read about it, you say “awwwww” and reflect for a moment how another small icon of your life has moved on.  It doesn’t really affect you, but it serves as another marker that time is marching on and as the props of your youth disappear to dust, so someday shall you.

Then came David Bowie’s death on January 10.  This was different.  This was a huge celebrity death because Bowie, unlike Harrington, influenced culture (Sorry, Pat).  Everybody had a Bowie song they liked.  Or maybe they liked how he was an androgyny pioneer, way before anybody knew what androgyny even was.  Everybody was hit by Bowie’s death.

But even then, these things happen.  Superstars die every year.  And Bowie’s wasn’t even a surprise.  Not like, say, Michael Jackson’s sudden death.  Bowie had been fighting cancer for years.  He had been recording music and videos that anticipated his death.  We hoped his death wouldn’t happen, as I’m sure he did too.  But even when the Star Man’s light went out at the relatively young age of 69, we thought — well, all things must pass.

Only four days later, Alan Rickman died.  Now that was disconcerting.  Not that Rickman had the same iconic cultural impact as Bowie, but it was so sudden.  Another 69 year old, and only a short battle with cancer.

By then, the jokes were already starting about how 2016 was taking so many people from us unexpectedly.  For some that was confirmed when Glenn Frey of the Eagles died.  Only 67 years old, from complications of arthritis, ulcer and pneumonia.  What the hell?

But maybe that was it, right?  Celebrity deaths come in threes, the old adage goes.  And Bowie, Rickman and Frey — those were the three.  All under 70.  All in the same January.  Just a bad month.

If we were paying attention, we should have known that celebrity deaths were on 2016’s agenda, when Death ignored the old joke about Abe Vagoda never dying, and He came to collect Mr. Vigoda’s lifeless body in January 26.  We should have paid attention and buckled ourselves in.

February saw a slew of surprising-but-not-really deaths:  Justice Antonin Scalia, Harper Lee, Bud Collins (the tennis announcer), the veteran actor George Gaynes (from “Tootsie” and the Police Academy movies), the veteran actor George Kennedy….

And then Nancy Reagan on March 4.  Well, okay.  She was due.  94, for crying out loud.  This is normal.  This is expected.  Same with Sir George Martin (Beatles producer), Ken Martin (“The White Shadow”), Frank Sinatra Jr., Garry Shandling….

Wait… what?  Garry Shandling?  His death on March 24 caught me VERY off guard.  He was only 66.  A heart attack.  He was, like Bowie, an innovator — but for comedy television.  And kind of close to MY generation.  What the hell is HE doing dying like that?  Something uncool is happening.

March 29 — Patty Duke, age 69 — there’s that 69 again.  From a ruptured intestine? DEFINITELY something uncool is happening.

Doris Roberts.

On April 21, Michelle McNamara died.  In front of me practically.  I didn’t know who she was.  But I was reading Patton Oswald’s tweets.  He was prolific and funny that day.  Then his tweets stopped.  Then came the news: Patton’s wife, Michelle (a writer for TrueCrimeStory.com) was dead.  Just died in her sleep at the age of 46.  The cause of death is still unknown.

Okay, not a celebrity death.  But for Patton.  Oh my God.  I hate it when comedians die, and when their loved ones die, you just want to break things.  People who make you laugh are supposed to have good lives.  That’s my rule, and I hate to see it broken.

Same day as Michelle McNamara?  Prince.  Age 57.  REALLY close to my age.  Accidental overdose.  Okay, now — this wasn’t a huge shock.  There’s something about people who live fast and die young.  It happens, it just does.  I mean, it would not have been a shock if he lived to be 95 either.  But with superstars — well, we’re used to them not growing old, aren’t we?  But somehow, coming after Bowie and Rickman and Frey and Shandling…. now now just a few, but almost everybody was saying the same thing: 2016 is is coming after our cultural icons.

Or maybe not.  Madeleine Lebeau (of “Casablanca” fame), age 92; Morley Safer, age 84…

Muhammad Ali, age 74, on June 3.  Sad, but not unexpected.  What a full rich life.

Then we got a slew of deaths from — well, not superstars.  But tragic because they were at the beginning of their careers.  Cristine Grimme, age 22 — shot while signing autographs at her concert on June 11.  Anton Yelchin, age 27 — Star Trek’s new Chekov run over by his own car in a freak car accident outside his home on June 19.

But then things kind of got into a normal groove — as deaths go, that is — and it looked like 2016 might return to normalcy.  You had a lot of “oooooh, THAT guy” deaths.

Elie Wiesel, age 92, on July 2.

Garry Marshall, age 81, on July 19.

Character actor David Huddleston, age 85, on August 2.

R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, age 81, on August 13.

But Death’s summer vacation came to an end.  And he hit the ground running on his return.  Gene Wilder on August 29.  That one hurt.  It hurt everyone. maybe not a surprise, but it was just plain MEAN.

Then, for some reason, Death took a swipe at the trans community.  The Lady Chablis, age 59 on September 8.  Actor and trans-activist Alexis Arquette, age 47, died on September 11, singing David Bowie’s “Starman” as she passed.  Very meta.

Charmian Carr (Liesl in “Sound of Music”), age 71 on September 17.

Arnold Palmer, 87, on September 25.

Kevin Meaney, on October 21.

Maybe things are going to be okay.  Maybe.  Maybe no more tragic young and/or iconic celebrity deaths.

Janet Reno, 78, on November 7.

Leonard Cohen, 82, on November 10.

Robert Vaughn, 87 on November 11.

Maaaaaybeeee.

Gwen Ifill, 61, on November 14.

Pow!!  Florence Henderson, 82 on November 24.

And to join “Barney Miller” castmate Abe Vigoda, Death grabs Ron Glass on November 25.

And speaking of sets, having taken Keith Emerson on March 11 this year, Death grabbed Greg Lake on December 7.  (Carl Palmer, the surviving member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer is still alive, but the year is not over).

And December 2016 becomes an echo of January 2016.  Iconic deaths.

Godspeed John Glenn, 95, dying on December 8.

Alan Thicke, another 69 year old, on December 13

Zsa Zsa Gabor, on everybody’s death list for ages, finally succumbs at age 99 on December 18.

Which brings us to this week.

George Michael, age 53.  That’s MY AGE!  On Christmas Day.  Of natural causes!  What the hell?!?

Carrie Fisher, age 60, on December 27 of a heart attack, and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, age 84, the next day, of (no doubt) a broken heart.

Insanity.  And honestly, everybody is on edge.  As I am typing this, there is THIS:

… but it is a hoax (that’s not a real BBC news site).

The Queen is fine.  But we’re primed for this.

So here comes the question:  ARE there more celebrity deaths this year?

The answer is yes.  In fact, the BBC reached that conclusion back in April! They did this by counting the number of pre-prepared BBC obituaries that had run in the first three months of each year from 2012 to 2016.  They found that there had indeed been a spike in celebrity deaths: twice as many “famous” people (defined as having a BBC advance obituary) died in January, February and March of this year as had done during the corresponding period of 2015 – and five times as many as in the first three months of 2012. However, the BBC’s obituaries editor Nick Serpell reported that things began to level out somewhat after that, and that the second half of the year was not especially unusual. But still, in the whole of 2016, the BBC has used 30 per cent more pre-prepared obituaries compared to the previous year.

What is going on?  Why is this happening?  Well, this is the new normal, says the Independent:

What we now call celebrity culture probably kicked off with the rise of Hollywood and of professional sport in the first decades of the 20th century, and things began to resemble the modern day with Frank Sinatra’s “bobby soxers”, and, a few years later, Elvis. But it was in the first few years of the 1960s, when four mop-topped chaps from Liverpool took the world by storm, that the cult of the celebrity really got into gear.

It was the decade that promised a classless, meritocratic future, when young working class people could rise to stardom fuelled by talent and ambition alone rather than by privilege and breeding. The Beatles were rapidly followed by the Stones, the Who and the Kinks, and by a stampede of rising stars from other metiers: Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, George Best, Davids Bailey, Frost and Hockney… modern popular culture as we know it took flight.

Those people who came to fame in the ’60s are now in the autumn and winter of their years, so there’s bound to be an increase in celebrity mortality. And in the case of musicians, death comes sooner: a 2014 academic study in Australia which looked at 13,000 rock and pop stars found that they die on average 25 years younger than the rest of the population (Keith Richards, still hale and hearty a few days after his 73rd birthday despite a lifestyle to fell an elephant, is clearly the rule-proving exception).

Then there’s social media: the rise of Facebook – which grew by 250 million subscribers during 2016 – and of Twitter means that each notable death becomes known about and commented upon around the world within seconds of an announcement. Outpourings of grief go rapidly viral, and celebrity deaths seem to mean and matter far more than they ever did.

For these reasons, I don’t see any change on the horizon: there are more famous people than ever before, and they’re all on the Grim Reaper’s to-do list. I suspect that this time next year we’ll be telling ourselves that in celebrity-death terms, 2016 wasn’t so unusual after all.

In other words, get used to it.

RELATED:  Oh fuck you 2016!

 

 

 

Possible Terrorist Attack In Berlin

In a day that has already seen a diplomatic assassination, it looks like we might have a terrorist attack on our hands.

A truck ran into a Christmas market an hour or so ago in a major public square in Berlin. There are reports of several dead, 50 injured. The incident happened in Breitscheidplatz in western Berlin.

Because of the similarity between this and the Nice terrorist attack in July, many are making the assumption that this was intentional.  Berlin media said police at the scene had said initial indications pointed to an attack, which is just a soft allegation at best.

According to one witness, the truck veered off Budapester Strasse across the pavement and stopped just before the Christmas tree on the square. The street has been cordoned off and a meeting point for relatives has been set up. The Christmas market has been cleared and a police spokesman said there are concerns the crash may have caused a gas leak.

UPDATE:   Berlin police say nine dead.

And now word of a lockdown in Brussels as terror police swoop in.

UPDATE #2:  Driver of the truck was arrested.  No shootout as in Nice.  So apparently, we will know motive soon.  CNN is reporting that Berlin police are investigating the incident as an act of terrorism.

NC Legislature Still At It

Despite protests, widespread criticism and a threat by the governor-elect to challenge in court any moves that he believes would unconstitutionally limit his power, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature is pushing through reforms that would severely limit the incoming Democratic governor’s power.

It’s insane.  One such measure, which passed the House, was that the GOP and the Democratic Party would alternate the years in which they serve as the head of the Board of Electors in each county.  The catch? The GOP will chair all 100 county boards of elections in high-turnout even-numbered years (2018, 2020, 2022, etc.).

And get this…

How indeed?  Do they think we don’t see the inherent disadvantage that one party chairs the board of elections during even-numbered years?

Fortunately, there is pushback from the Dems about the LACK of bi-partisanship.

As I write this, there are citizen protest in the gallery.  They are trying to close the gallery now.

Other measures include the partisan election of NC Supreme Court judges.  The trend in America is to move AWAY from partisan elected judges (i.e., where judges indicate their political party).  But North Carolina is to become the first state since Pennsylvania in 1921 to move back to partisan Supreme Court judge elections.

LATE UPDATE:  SB4 passes and is signed by Gov. McCrory

SB4 would create a bipartisan commission merging the current State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying functions of the Secretary of State’s office, although Democrats correctly say that there is nothing “bi-partisan” about it.

Democrats said it couldn’t be called bipartisan because they weren’t involved in creating the proposal. Republicans call it bipartisan because it would create a state board and county election boards comprised of members equally split between the parties. It would also deprive the incoming Democratic administration of control of those boards; currently, the administration can appoint three of the five state members and two of the three members on each county board.

Democrats also argued that the bill is far-reaching and should be discussed in more detail in the long session next year. Republican sponsors said the ideas in the bill have been discussed in the legislature for years, and that this is a good time to make the changes because there is no impending election.

The bill would also give Gov. Pat McCrory the authority to make a one-time appointment to fill a vacancy on the state Industrial Commission for a six-year term plus the unexpired portion of the commissioner’s term. Normally, a vacancy replacement only fills out the remainder of a term.

It would also identify state Supreme Court candidates by party in primary elections.

AND MORE:

Good way to phrase it.

Another bill nearing final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation.

It’s Not A “Conflict Of Interest” If You Change The Definition of “Conflict Of Interest”

Greg Sargent caught Sean Spicer explaining why Trump’s blatant conflicts of interest aren’t unethical:

“You tell everyone, here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here are the people that are playing a role, that’s being transparent. Conflicts of interest arise when you’re not — when you’re sneaky about it, when you’re shady about it, when you’re not transparent about it.”

Nnnno.  It’s a conflict of interest when you have interests that conflict.  Or, to be less circular, you have a conflict of interest when you have a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

I THINK Spicer was saying that conflicts of interest, in a corporate setting, can be waived if a majority is made aware of the conflict and approves it.  I think he is suggesting that this will translate to Trump in the election process — i.e., every voter knew of his conflicts and they elected him anyway.  That is tacit approval that America waives any problem with his conflict of interest.

If that is what Spiver was suggesting, it is absurd.

For one thing, we don’t know that every voter knew about the extent of Trump’s conflicts.  In fact, we still don’t know, because he keeps so much of his finances a secret.

Secondly, many voters reasonably believed that Trump would, voluntarily or by law, take steps to remove those conflicts.  Trump himself seem to suggest this would happen many times during the campaign.  So, he misled the voters.

And finally, a majority of voters did not elect Trump.  Hillary won the popular vote by almost 2 percentage points.

The thing is, the Trump people wouldn’t say this blatantly stupid stuff if there wasn’t a huge swath of people who believe it all.

Republicans Will Like Anything As Long As It Helps Republicans

This graph says it all:

Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.

To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics.

If widespread murder helped Republicans win political offices,.Republican voters would start favoring widespread murder.

The Brazen NCGOP Power Grab

The lame-duck North Carolina legislature’s is engaging in a last-minute effort to weaken the office of the governor before Democrat Roy Cooper.

Here’s one thing they are doing.

Back in 2013, this same legislature dramatically increased the number of what are technically called “exempt positions” under the governor, giving newly elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory significant new patronage power. The number of political appointees authorized for McCrory exploded from about 500 to 1,500.

Now a new bill introduced in the surprise special session, called yesterday with about two hours notice, cuts the number of political appointees for Cooper from 1,500 down to 300, even fewer than McCrory originally started with.

Let that sink in. And it’s not just political appointees being taken away from Cooper. The lame-duck GOP legislature scheming with the defeated lame-duck GOP governor to handcuff the new Democratic governor on everything from the courts to the elections boards to higher education.

It’s a power grab of epic proportions.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis (Republican) was frank that some of the appointment and election board changes were prompted by Cooper’s election.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on, but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway and has been talked about for quite some time,” he said.

House Democratic Leader Larry Hall of Durham said Republicans were trying to “nullify the vote of the people” in electing Cooper, who defeated McCrory last month.

The Charlotte Observer editorial board:

It’s both breathtaking and hardly surprising.

With a scope never before seen in North Carolina politics – and with an all-too-familiar disrespect for democracy – Republicans in Raleigh are engaging in a stunning reach for power this week.

They want to change the ideological makeup of election boards. They want to make it more difficult for court challenges to get to a Democrat-friendly Supreme Court. They want to limit the number of appointees Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will be able to make. They want approval authority over some of those appointees.

It is an arrogant display of muscle-flexing, and Republicans weren’t shy about the goal. Legislators, said House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, wanted “to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”

In other words: We’re in control. We want more control. We’ll do what we want to get it.

You might recognize that sentiment. It was what Democrats expressed in 1977 after the Democrat-led General Assembly passed legislation that allowed new Gov. Jim Hunt to fire all employees hired in the previous five years by his Republican predecessor. Said Joe Pell, then special assistant to Hunt: “The game of politics, as far as I know, is still played on the basis of ‘to the victor belongs the spoils.’”

That 1977 power grab was much smaller than what Republicans have attempted this week. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now, not only because it weakens the other branches of state government, but because it subverts the will of voters who elected Cooper and a Democrat Supreme Court justice to be a check on the Republican legislature.

The 1977 statute also was unconstitutional, and judges struck it down. You can expect this week’s measures to also head straight to the courts, a place where N.C. Republicans have regularly been reminded of the limits of their power.

There’s someone else, however, who can do that first. Gov. Pat McCrory is a lame duck now, which means he has one more opportunity to stand up to the extremists in his party. He also has little to lose, which means he can be the governor many had hoped for all along – one who was willing to do what’s right for North Carolina, not just what’s good for Republicans.

We’ve seen more glimpses of that McCrory lately. His response to Hurricane Matthew and its aftermath was both strong and compassionate. He was the leader the state needed, including this week in following through on relief so many North Carolinians desperately need.

Now North Carolina needs McCrory to lead again. He knows that limiting the next governor’s power, as Republicans are attempting this week, is wrong. As governor, he fought the legislature’s attempt to steal his appointing authority to key N.C. commissions, eventually winning in the N.C. Supreme Court earlier this year. He should veto all new attempts to weaken the office he’s about to leave.

Will doing so change McCrory’s legacy? Probably not. And any veto he makes might fall in an override vote – a fear that’s caused McCrory to bow to Republicans in the past.

But North Carolina has learned plenty these last four years the damage that can be done when one party – any party – accumulates too much power. That’s been on display once again this week, perhaps more brazenly, and dangerously, than ever.

People have noticed, fortunately.

Incoming governor Roy Cooper warns that the substance of these bills are horrible:

“Most people might think this is a partisan power grab, but it’s really more ominous,” Cooper said at a news conference.

House Bill 17, which was introduced Wednesday night and was moving through committees on Thursday, does the following:

  • It reduces the number of exempt positions under Cooper’s supervision from 1,500 to 300. Exempt positions are those that a governor can hire or fire at will, either because they are managers or because their job is somewhat political in nature. Although former Gov. Bev Perdue had roughly 500 such positions under her control, GOP lawmakers gave Gov. Pat McCrory 1,500 to work with.
  • It removes gubernatorial appointments to the various boards of trustees that run each campus in the University of North Carolina system. Those appointments would be would be transferred to the General Assembly.
  • It requires Senate confirmation for gubernatorial cabinet appointments. Although the state constitution allows this, the legislature hasn’t exercised this power in recent memory.

Cooper said the proposal “is really about hurting public education, working families, state employees, health care and clean air and water.”

Putting the legislative thumb on his appointments for the Revenue and Commerce departments would encourages more corporate tax cuts and loopholes, he said. Likewise, renewable energy efforts and rules for clean air and water would be hurt by requiring Senate approval of the environmental secretary, he said.

“We don’t look great to the people of North Carolina or to the rest of the country when laws are passed hastily with little discussion in the middle of the night,” he said.

He cited House Bill 2, the law limiting LGBT rights that lawmakers passed in a one-day emergency session in March, as an example of the damage created by last-minute legislating. Business expansions, concerts, athletic events and conventions have been moved out of North Carolina as a result of the law.

“I will use all of our tools … to lead this state in the right direction,” Cooper said, including possible litigation to overturn legislation.

“If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court – and they don’t have a very good track record there,” he said.

This last-minute legislation is a Republican tactic, one of many seen around the country, where the GOP tries to gain political control through means other than popular vote (gerrymandering being another).  Forget about winning over people by the strength of your ideas with these guys.

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been A Climate Change Scientist?

Now we’re into the naming names phase.  The Washington Post reports:

Global warming — “it’s a hoax.” Donald Trump has said that more than once. So it’s understandable that the request by the president-elect’s transition team for the names of individual Energy Department employees and contractors who worked on the issue makes them worry that the trick could be on them.

“There is major concern amongst my members,” said Jeff Eagan, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapter at the department’s headquarters building in Washington. He’s also a 17-year Energy employee, but was speaking in his union capacity. “I have received lots of calls, emails, messages expressing shock and dismay.”

The scientists and their colleagues at Energy know global warming is real. What they don’t know is what Trump might do to those whose work has been in line with the science and the Obama administration, which has spoken about “the urgent imperatives of climate change.”

Perhaps Trump’s crew will do nothing. Trump more recently has said he has an open mind about global warming, so maybe he’s discarding his flat-earth approach to the subject. Nonetheless, the transition team’s request to “provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended” certain climate change meetings casts a shroud of apprehension over the workforce. The transition team ignored a request for comment.

Yeah, I would be nervous too.

Meanwhile, scientists race to copy climate data onto non-government servers out of fear it could disappear under Trump.

More Fake News Believers Getting Violent

This is getting out of hand:

A Tampa woman is accused of making death threats to the parent of a first grader who died in the Sandy Hook massacre.

Investigators say 57-year-old Lucy Richards is among those who believe the 2012 shooting, that killed 20 children and 6 adults, was all a hoax. Her disbelief is so strong, investigators say she targeted a father who lost his child in the shooting. That man now lives on the east coast of Florida.

According to the indictment ,Richards contacted the father four times on January 10, saying things like, “You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon,” “there’s nothing you can do about it,” and “look behind you, death is coming to you real soon.”

Richards was arrested Monday. She is charged with four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce. With each count carrying a maximum of five years in prison, she could spend 20 years behind bars, if convicted.

Richards is not alone in her beliefs. There’s a whole online community of people certain the Sandy Hook shooting was staged.

She is the second person this week facing criminal charges due to conspiracy theories. Sunday, Edgar Welch was arrested for bringing a gun  inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. He told police he was there to self-investigate a child trafficking ring he read about on a website, which has since been discredited and labeled “fake news.”

Psychologist Dr. Mark Prange says it’s often a long-term emotional habit of not using reasoning makes people cling so tightly to conspiracy theories.

“The story is going to always be more powerful than the logic,” Prange said. “Not using a process that says, what are the checks and balances of the beliefs I am holding to and not being open that allows the belief system to get locked into almost a delusional way of looking at the world.”

He says trying to help someone locked into an extreme belief system can be challenging, “because that belief may be more important or may be so threatening for them to face why they’re holding it.”

Prange said, “It can snowball if one has not had educational experiences or family experiences or even social experiences where their beliefs are challenged.”

Lucy Richards’ next hearing is December 19.

And speaking of Edgar Welch, here is the federal complaint released today.  Edgar Welch is the man who fired an assault rifle in a D.C. pizzeria earlier this month.  From the complaint, we learn that he allegedly recruited two other individuals to join in his investigation of patently false claims that the restaurant was the center of a child sex slave ring connected to the Clintons.  Welch texted several friends attempting to convince them to drive up to Washington, D.C., with him to check out Comet Ping Pong. He texted one friend, identified in the document as “B,” a link to a YouTube video about “Pizzagate” and included the note “Watch PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture on YouTube.” Another friend, identified as “C,” initially thought his pal intended to drive to North Dakota to “save the Indians from the pipeline,” but Welch clarified with the texts: “Way more important, much higher stakes” and “Pizzagate.” C wrote back: “Sounds like we r freeing some oppressed pizza from the hands of an evil pizza joint.” Welch replied by encouraging his friend to watch a YouTube video about “Pizzagate.” Ultimately, the two friends did not join Welch on his quest. The document also shows that Welch was prepared to kill, telling C that the mission would involve “sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many.”

UPDATE: Alex Jones seems to be cleaning up after himself by scrubbing his website of Pizzagate references:

“Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture” is the headline Infowars used for a December 1 article promoting a video from Infowars producer Jon Bowne that pushes the pizzagate conspiracy theory. Jones tweeted the headline on December 1. The headline was also used on YouTube by a non-Infowars accounts to promote the Infowars video.

Welch also told The New York Times that he listens to Jones, and he reportedly liked Infowars on Facebook.

Jones and Infowars appear to be scrubbing commentary about pizzagate. Jones’ YouTube channel posted a November 23 video headlined “Pizzagate Is Real: Something Is Going On, But What?” The video has since“been removed by the user,” though it’s not clear when.

Trump’s EPA Pick Is A “Fuck You” To Environmentalists (And The Planet)

Today Trump announced his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Would it surprise you to learn that he’s a far right climate change denier in the pocket of the fossil fuel industries?

Scott Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt, 48, who has emerged as a hero to conservative activists, is also one of a number of Republican attorneys general who have formed an alliance with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, a 2014 investigation by The New York Times revealed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Pruitt as head of the EPA represents an existential threat to the future of planet Earth. This is so bad.

Walter Scott Follow-Up

It has been a year and a half since Walter Scott’s death.  I wrote about it here… but basically, he was running from a cop and was shot IN THE BACK As HE WAS RUNNING AWAY.  The video makes this crystal clear:

There’s even indication that the cop planted evidence on/near the body.  Yes,. look at the video.

So what happened at trial?

But despite an unarmed victim, forensics proving he was shot multiple times in the back, a police officer who made a false report, and clear video showing the entire debacle, Slager was not convicted of murder or manslaughter in his trial this week. A lone juror spared him that fate with a refusal to convict. That triggered a mistrial.

Something is horribly wrong with the system.

Fortunately, the prosecutor will retry the case.  Again.  For the THIRD time.

Even operating under a standard in which police officers get the benefit of every reasonable doubt, it seems hard to understand why the cops involved wouldn’t have been convicted of manslaughter. The fact that neither was convicted is the latest evidence that the system as it now exists does not reliably punish cops for even egregious killings.

The policy debate around policing has lately focused on the tactics and rhetoric of Black Lives Matter (while mostly ignoring its excellent Campaign Zero roadmap for policy reform). Whatever conservatives think of Black Lives Matter, it is long past time that more of them join with libertarians and liberals in an effort to address this problem: Armed agents of the state are killing American citizens at rates far higher than other developed countries, and even when videos show them killing unarmed individuals, some are somehow getting away with it.

The Power Of Fake News

This morning, Trump got on Twitter (you know this doesn’t end good, right?) and tweeted this:

P.S. (although it really is another story unto itself) Trump sent out this tweet 20 minutes after this story – a Chicago Tribune story where the Boeing CEO criticized Trump — first appeared.

And what happened?

A 137-character tweet from President-elect Donald Trump could be costing Boeing Co. shareholders more than $550 million, as Wall Street got a firsthand look at how easily an incoming commander in chief can move markets.

Boeing’s stock was down 86 cents, or 0.6%, in midday trade, paring an earlier loss of as much as 1.4%. Based on 647.9 million shares outstanding as of Sept. 30, according to the aerospace giant’s third-quarter report, that implies about $557.2 million was lopped off Boeing’s market capitalization.

Trump tweeted that an order for Boeing to build a new Air Force One should be canceled because costs had risen to over $4 billion, which would be well more than double earlier budget estimates.

Trump didn’t just tweet about the order. He told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, where he works and lives, that the building of the plane was “totally out of control,” as costs were spiraling, according to ABC News.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” Trump said. “We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

Such is the power of inaccurate information.  The $4 billion figure, by the way, is totally fictional.  Nobody knows where Trump got that number from.

“We are currently under contract for $170 million to determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States,” Boeing said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Boeing had secured the contract in January to start work on the 747-8 jumbo jets that would replace the planes used as Air Force One beginning early next decade. Although the Pentagon didn’t disclose the expected cost of the two new planes, earlier budget estimates put the cost at more than $1.6 billion.

But that didn’t stop the plunge.

And this is what happened — in an instant — when false information was spread.

But it is not just markets, it’s lives.  Literal lives.

Let’s talk about fake news.  For several months, there has been a “scandal” brewing that barely deserves mentioning, except for the fact that it is a prime example of what can happen when fake news is circulated and believed. (Actually, the election of Trump is also a great example of the consequences of fake news, but there were other factors involved there).

The scandal is called “Pizzagate” and boils down to this: Bill and Hillary Clinton were – and still are — operating a child prostitution ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington DC.

Yeah, I know.  I know.  Common sense alone would make you reject this one out of hand, but we live in post-truth times now.  And lots of people still believe it.  Like this guy:

Harmless?  Nope.  The tweet above is from Michael Flynn, Jr., son of General Michael Flynn Sr., who Trump recently appointed as his national security adviser.  The senior Flynn is no novice when it comes to tweeting fake news himself, like this one relating to spirit cooking (a sort of forerunner of the pizzagate scandal):

General Flynn is also the author of other troubling tweets:

So we have a national security adviser and his son (a son who, until recently was on the Trump transition team) who are re-tweeting fake news about a fake scandal.  Given the clout these guys have, plus the fact that some morons will believe anything they hear on the Internet, THIS is what happens:

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch allegedly believed he was liberating “child sex slaves” kept in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant when he entered the building with two guns on Sunday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint released Monday, the North Carolina man told police that he “had read online” that Comet Ping Pong was the center of a child trafficking ring and “that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.” Welch had brought along an AR-15 assault rifle and a .38 caliber handgun to “help rescue them,” he allegedly told police.

He now faces several gun-related charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and openly carrying a weapon without a license. The Washington Post reported that D.C. Magistrate Judge Joseph E. Beshouri on Monday ordered Welch to remain in jail until his next hearing on Thursday after U.S. Attorney Sonali Patel cautioned he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Friends of Welch, a periodically employed father of two young girls, told the Post that they were surprised that he became so personally invested in investigating an online conspiracy theory that holds that Democratic Party operatives are running a pedophilia and human trafficking ring from the Comet restaurant. The fabricated story, known as “Pizzagate” and targeted at Hillary Clinton and her allies, was ignited by fringe social media users. It was then heavily circulated by fake news publications and conspiracy sites.

Comet Ping Pong’s owners have received a steady stream of death threats and harassing phone calls since the bizarre tale began circulating online in late October. Other establishments on Connecticut Avenue, a popular shopping street in Northwest D.C., have also been targeted by protesters and threatening phone calls.

Welch did not elaborate further on his motive in the courtroom on Monday, according to the Post, saying only his name when asked to identify himself.

He surrendered to law enforcement gathered outside the restaurant after he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored” inside.

Fortunately, no guns were fired and nobody was killed.  But it does make you wonder how long it will be before people die because of fake news.

Trump’s Carrier Deal Is The Opposite Of Capitalism

 

So a few days ago, President-elect Donald Trump tweets that Carrier is not moving to Mexico and it is keeping jobs here.  He pats himself on the back for delivering on a campaign promise.  Except now we learn the truth:

The Carrier deal, brokered by President-elect Donald Trump, may not have saved as many factory jobs as was presented at the plant last week in Indianapolis.

Carrier workers received a flyer from the United Steelworkers, Local Union 1999. It details which jobs are staying here in Indy and which are going to Mexico. The numbers are a bit different from last week’s big announcement.

Last Thursday, amid much fanfare, President-elect Trump spent time on the factory floor and talked with union workers at the westside Indianapolis Carrier plant.

“We’re keeping a little over 1,100 jobs it turns out,” he told them.

He also made a big announcement about a big deal reached with United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, to save 1,100 American jobs that were going to be moved to Mexico.

Carrier worker T.J. Bray, who’s also a communications rep for the union, told reporters across the country he was thrilled. His phone rang again while we talked with him Monday afternoon.

“I’ve been getting non-stop phone calls. Non-stop media. It’s been a wild, wild week,” Bray said.

But Bray and other union workers just learned some new numbers about the actual number of production jobs saved by the Trump-Pence deal.

“We didn’t know the breakdown before because no one would give us any information,” Union President Chuck Jones told Eyewitness News by phone Monday. “Now what we’re losing is 550 member jobs.”

“We found out today that more jobs are leaving than what we originally thought,” Bray said. “It seemed like since Thursday, it was 1,100 then it was maybe 900 and then now we’re at 700. So I’m hoping it doesn’t go any lower than that.”

Union workers got a letter at the plant saying Trump’s deal with Carrier will save only 730 factory jobs in Indianapolis, plus 70 salaried positions – 553 jobs in the plant’s fan coil lines are still moving to Monterrey, Mexico.

All 700 workers at Carrier’s Huntington plant will also lose their jobs.

So basically, dealmaker Donald Trump forced Indiana to cough up 7 million dollars to save 730, not 1100, jobs.  I mean, good news if you’re one of those people… but even then, is it?  This came about as a negotiation, a deal — not as a result of economic policy.  Trump cannot intercede like that for every company that intends to ship jobs overseas.

And by the way, interceding like that, and arranging for corporate welfare, isn’t exactly laissez-faire economics.  It is certainly not Republican.  Hell, even Sarah Palin has a problem with it:

Foundational to our exceptional nation’s sacred private property rights, a business must have freedom to locate where it wishes. In a free market, if a business makes a mistake (including a marketing mistake that perhaps Carrier executives made), threatening to move elsewhere claiming efficiency’s sake, then the market’s invisible hand punishes. Thankfully, that same hand rewards, based on good business decisions.

But this time-tested truth assumes we’re operating on a level playing field.

When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent. Meanwhile, the invisible hand that best orchestrates a free people’s free enterprise system gets amputated. Then, special interests creep in and manipulate markets. Republicans oppose this, remember? Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.

Politicians picking and choosing recipients of corporate welfare is railed against by fiscal conservatives, for it’s a hallmark of corruption. And socialism. The Obama Administration dealt in it in spades. Recall Solyndra, Stimulus boondoggles, and all their other taxpayer-subsidized anchors on our economy. A $20 trillion debt-ridden country can’t afford this sinfully stupid practice, so vigilantly guard against its continuance, or we’re doomed.

Reaganites learned it is POLICY change that changes economic trajectory. Reagan’s successes were built on establishing a fiscal framework that invigorated our entire economy, revitalized growth and investment while decreasing spending, tax rates, over-reaching regulations, unemployment, and favoritism via individual subsidies. We need Reaganites in the new Administration.

I hate to say this, but Sarah Palin is right.  Right about what Republicans want.  This is, quite simply, Trump picking winners and losers.

A Win Against The Pipeline

In a rare win for progressives, the Secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reportedly told Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault that the current route for the Dakota Access pipeline will be denied.

According to MSNBC, the Corps of Engineers will conduct an environmental study to see how the pipeline can be rerouted to lessen any potential environmental impact. However, the pipeline will not cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Reservation.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell released a statement Sunday afternoon in support of the decision.

“The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts, as envisioned by NEPA,” Jewell said in the statement.

“The Army’s announcement underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”

The protesters had been facing a Monday deadline to vacate their encampment near Cannon Ball, ND.

“We will not fight tonight, we will dance!” Rami Bald Eagle, Cheyenne River Lakota Tribal Leader shared the great news, with much celebration breaking out among the people.

Thousands of U.S. Veterans have boots on the ground at the Standing Rock Protest, many more than expected. Tim King, former editor of Salem-News.com, is there and heard the announcement.

U.S. military Veterans have been standing “out front” for a couple of days with more of their brothers and sisters-in-arms arriving daily. No, they do not have weapons.

The bitter cold has not chilled the passion behind stopping the pipeline. The many members of “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock,” brought supplies such as gas masks, earplugs and body armor, to stand firm as a unit to protect protesters from the police and their rubber bullets.

But instead, tonight they dance. It looks like the Americans have won, after all.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II reacted to the announcement, calling it a sign that President Barack Obama “is listening.”

“We are encouraged and know that the peaceful prayer and demonstration at Standing Rock have powerfully brought to light the unjust narrative suffered by tribal nations and Native Americans across the country,” Archambault said. “We call on all water protectors, as we have from the beginning, to join our voices in prayer and to share our opposition to this pipeline peacefully. The whole world is watching and where they see prayerful, peaceful resistance, they join us.”

Water protectors have been camped out near the construction site of the pipeline since April and have dogged the pipeline work at every step. More than 400 people have been arrested as they stood their ground against pepper spray, mace, rubber bullets and sound cannons, among other violent methods.

Trump’s Lies About Voter Fraud Will Make Voting Harder

From The Nation, we get another aspect of how things are getting worse already:

Less than a month after Donald Trump unexpectedly carried Michigan by 10,000 votes, Republicans in the state legislature are already pushing to make it harder to vote. The presidential recount hasn’t even finished yet and Michigan Republicans are trying to pass a strict voter-ID law through the lame-duck legislative session before the end of this year.

Under current Michigan law, a voter who does not present photo ID at the polls can sign an affidavit confirming their identify, under penalty of perjury, and cast a regular ballot. Under the new bill, which passed the House Elections Commission on a 5-3 party-line vote on December 1, voters without strict ID would have to cast a provisional ballot and then return to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of the election with photo ID to have their votes counted.

This change to Michigan’s election laws could make a big difference in future elections: 18,339 people without strict photo ID used the affidavit option to vote in 2016—8,000 votes greater than Trump’s margin of victory. One-third of the affidavits came from Detroit, where Hillary Clinton won 67 percent of the vote in Wayne County.

Already, Trump’s discredited lie that “millions” voted illegally in 2016 seems to be impacting Republican actions. “A multitude of candidates have raised the concerns about the integrity of elections,” said GOP Representative Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the bill. “We need to respond to those questions. We are going to make sure that we’re protecting you—all voters—and the integrity of the election.”

***

This is happening in other states as well.

In New Hampshire, newly elected GOP Governor Chris Sununu has called for eliminating same-day registration, and Republicans in the legislature want to tighten residency requirements to vote.

In North Carolina, GOP Governor Pat McCrory spread bogus claims of voter fraud before finally conceding to Democrat Roy Cooper, while conservative groups are challenging same-day registration and the GOP legislature is considering packing the state Supreme Court in a special legislative session beginning December 13 to reassert Republican control after Democrats won a 4-3 majority on election night.

In Wisconsin, Republican leaders called for cutting early voting, again, after high early-voting turnout in Democratic cities like Madison and Milwaukee. “We’re probably going to have to look at it again to make sure that everybody in the state has the same chance to vote,” said House Speaker Robin Vos.

In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called for reviving the state’s strict voter-ID law, which has repeatedly been struck down as discriminatory by federal courts, listing it as one of his top 10 priorities for the 2017 legislative sessions. “I know we’re going to do photo voter ID again,” he said.

Why McCrory Lost

Public Policy Polling looks at why Governor McCrory lost here in North Carolina in what was obviously a banner year for Republicans:

What happened in the summer of 2013 to make McCrory so permanently unpopular? He allowed himself to be associated with a bunch of unpopular legislation, and progressives hit back HARD, in a way that really caught voters’ attention and resonated with them.

Medicaid Expansion? 56% of voters wanted it to move forward, only 26% wanted it blocked.

Sneaking in abortion legislation by putting it in a bill about motorcycle safety? 8% of voters supported that, 80% opposed it.

Guns in bars? 17% in support, 73% opposed. Guns in parks? 29% in support, 65% opposed. Guns on college campuses? 25% in support, 69% opposed.

Eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit?  Only 30% of voters wanted to do that, 42% thought it should be kept.

Cut unemployment benefits? Only 29% of voters agreed with changes in the law, 55% were opposed.

Reduce the early voting period in North Carolina by a week? Just 33% of voters wanted to do that, 59% were against it.

Straight party ticket voting? 68% of voters wanted it continued, only 21% wanted it eliminated.

McCrory spearheaded or went along with all of this. And he might have gotten away with it without much impact on his image. Most voters don’t pay close attention to state government.

But the Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating- 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term.

Moral Mondays became a very rare thing- a popular protest movement. In August 2013 we found 49% of voters had a favorable opinion of the protesters to only 35% with an unfavorable opinion of them. And their message was resonating- 50% of voters in the state felt state government was causing North Carolina national embarrassment to only 34% who disagreed with that notion.

Pushing back hard on McCrory worked. The seeds of his final defeat today were very much planted in the summer of 2013. And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.

Keep Pounding.

While I agree with the “keep pounding” advice, and the positive impact of progressive movements like Moral Mondays, the analysis overlooks one HUGE aspect of McCrory’s loss: HB1, the so-called bathroom bill.  It became a national issue, and put North Carolina on the map as Bigotry Central.  Even if you didn’t care about whether or not transgenders could use this or that bathroom (and I think “not caring” probably describes the majority of NC voters), you did care when sports teams and leagues like the NCAA started boycotting your city.  I think most North Carolinians didn’t like McCrory for that.