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March 27 2015 6:10 PM

St. Louis Police to Limit Use of Tear Gas in Response to Ferguson Lawsuit

A civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of protestors in Ferguson has resulted in an unusual commitment from police agencies in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County to abstain from using tear gas or any other chemical agent as a means of breaking up peaceful demonstrations. According to Denise Lieberman, an attorney who represented the protestors, the agreement followed testimony from people who protested in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown and told the court that “police were gratuitously using tear gas and other chemical agents for the purpose of squelching first amendment activity.” Images of aggressive and military-style police action against demonstrators last summer shocked the country, and set off a national debate about the use of non-lethal weapons by law enforcement.    

Under the agreement, police officers will still be able to use chemical agents in response to illegal activity, but they will have to give fair warning before they do and provide people an opportunity to leave the scene. That will mean issuing “a clear order to disperse and clearly telling people that if they fail to disperse, they will be subject to arrest and/or chemical munition,” said Lieberman, a senior attorney at the civil rights organization the Advancement Project.

The judge presiding over the suit declined to specify a length of time that officers would have to wait after issuing a warning.

According to a press release issued by the Advancement Project, the agreement is “unprecedented,” and, to the best of their knowledge, the only other police agency in the country with policies that limit the use of chemical agents is the Oakland Police Department. Whether that’s true or not is hard to say without doing a comprehensive study of law enforcement policies around the country, but last year, a police spokesman in San Francisco was quoted as saying that his department has a similar policy against using tear gas or rubber bullets for the purpose of crowd control.

Skeptics might argue that the restrictions imposed on police will limit their ability to control unruly crowds. But Lieberman said the agreement includes a provision concerning “violent exigent circumstances, where something turns immediately violent and the police have to take immediate action in order to avert a legitimate threat to themselves and others.” Also, there’s reason to think that the use of chemical agents by police actually aggravates protest situations: a study led by UC Berkeley sociologist Nicholas Adams, which involved an analysis of Occupy protests in nearly 200 American cities, found that when police officers used aggressive tactics against protesters, the likelihood of violence erupting went up, not down. 

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March 27 2015 5:42 PM

Republicans Must Be Pretty Bummed That Harry Reid’s Retiring  

Harry Reid’s days in the Senate are officially numbered, and Republicans must be a tiny bit bummed. Reid was Public Enemy No. 1 for Republicans during the 2014 Midterms, and candidates around the country invoked his time as Senate majority leader to make the case for ousting vulnerable Senate Democrats. And while nobody draws as much grassroots conservative ire as President Obama, Republicans’ “Fire Harry Reid” refrain proved pretty effective.

Hating on Harry made sense for everyone from Cory Gardner—who beat an incumbent Democrat in Colorado by running as a pro-immigration moderate—to Ted Cruz, who released a Retire Harry Reid-themed get-out-the-vote video. The Republican National Committee used anti-Reid messaging to galvanize activists and donors. And it all worked: Reid wasn’t exactly fired, but he’s out. In the post-Reid era, Republicans will have to hope the universe gives them comparably energizing foes.

And that could be a tall order, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in an affecting statement he released on the Nevadan’s retirement.

“Nothing has ever come easily to this son of Searchlight,” McConnell said. “Underestimated often, his distinctive grit and determined focus nevertheless saw him through many challenges. They continue to make him a formidable opponent today.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner was equally decorous.

“Harry Reid has always been a tough advocate for the people of Nevada, and I have always appreciated the candid and straightforward nature of our relationship,” he said.

On the campaign side, Republicans were a little less buttoned-up. Ward Baker, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, celebrated that the senator “decided to hang up his rusty spurs” and said in his statement that the race to fill his seat will be the GOP’s top 2016 pickup opportunity.

Ward is probably right about that, but largely because Republicans will be playing defense in the 2016 Senate contests. Republican candidates do much better in elections that don’t happen in presidential years—compare 2014 and 2010 with 2012 and 2008, for instance—and there will be a host of Republican incumbent senators running in blue and purple states who could be highly vulnerable. Not having Reid as a foil will only make things tougher for them.

March 27 2015 5:15 PM

This Is the Woman Harry Reid Wants to Replace Him in the Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday morning that he’s retiring, and he’s wasting no time trying to coronate his successor. The Washington Post is reporting that the outgoing senator—who would have been up for re-election in 2016—says he favors the state’s former attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, as his replacement.

The Nevada Senate race in 2016 could be pretty interesting. Reid was widely perceived as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, but his open seat could give Republicans an even better pickup opportunity (though that thesis is hotly debated, as Jeff Singer details at Daily Kos Elections).

If Cortez Masto runs, she could be quite competitive. After being term-limited out of the attorney general’s office, she became executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which oversees colleges and universities in the state. During her short time there, she’s drawn national attention for her position on campus carry legislation. USA Today reports that current Nevada policy gives college presidents veto power over whether or not someone can carry a weapon on campus. But the Nevada Legislature is considering legislation that would take that power away from them, allowing people over 21 to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Cortez Masto is an adamant opponent of that change.

“The law works right now and from our perspective, it does not need to be changed,” she told USA Today. “The need for them to have this broad authority to carry a concealed weapons doesn’t exist. This is a solution in search for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

That wasn’t Cortez Masto’s first foray into gun politics. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2013 that she joined Mark Kelly—Gabby Giffords’ husband—to lobby for legislation that would require background checks for most gun purchases. That legislation eventually passed, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.

Nevada is a very purple state, and debates over gun rights draw lots of controversy there (as they do around the country). The Cliven Bundy standoff, when some Bundy supporters pointed weapons at federal agents, was in Nevada. And Sharron Angle, who lost to Reid in his 2012 re-election contest, once called for “Second Amendment remedies” to public policy problems. Gun rights are a galvanizing issue for conservative activists, and could likely be an important issue in the race to replace Reid.

Cortez Masto might not be the only Democratic Senate contender. Rep. Dina Titus told the Hill on Friday that she’s also putting “serious thought” into launching a Senate bid.

March 27 2015 4:43 PM

Oklahoma Report Says SAE Frat Learned Racist Chant During National “Leadership Cruise”

The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter whose members were caught on video repeating a racist chant originally became familar with the chant on a national SAE leadership cruise four years ago, the university's investigation determined. A total of 25 students will be disciplined over the incident, university President David Boren said; two were expelled, and the fraternity chapter has been closed. From the Huffington Post:

In a Friday letter to the SAE national office, also obtained by HuffPost, Boren said there was no indication the racist song was formally taught to fraternity members. But, he added, "it does appear that the chant was widely known and informally shared amongst members of the leadership cruise."

The “findings” document posted at HuffPo attributes its conclusion to interviews conducted by the “Office of Student Affairs.” Boren said Friday that more than 160 people were interviewed.

The university’s letter to SAE’s national office suggests that the fraternity investigate how widely the chant has permeated other chapters throughout the country; the organization has said it is conducting such a review and has begun several anti-racism initiatives.

March 27 2015 1:19 PM

Report: Bowe Bergdahl Left Unit to Become Whistleblower

Bowe Bergdahl intended to report alleged wrongdoing committed in his unit at a different Army outpost when he disappeared in 2009, two defense officials familiar with an internal report on his case told CNN. Bergdahl, who was kidnapped and held prisoner by the Taliban for five years when he left his unit, has officially been charged with desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy” and faces life imprisonment. His claims about his intentions could be part of his defense. From CNN:

What Bergdahl's concerns were, and whether they are relevant to the case of desertion the Army is trying to make will be a matter for military authorities to decide. "I can't tell you if his concerns were valid, but in his mind they were," the official said.
Both officials said Bergdahl believed he could make it to the next base by relying on wilderness skills he learned growing up in rural Idaho, even though the area was full of insurgents. It was not immediately clear how far the nearest base was during that timeframe in July 2009.

The next step in Bergdahl’s potential prosecution is an “Article 32 hearing” that will help determine whether he will be tried via court-martial.

March 27 2015 12:49 PM

Harry Reid Endorses Charles Schumer to Succeed Him as Minority Leader

When Nevada's Harry Reid announced early Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2016, immediate speculation pegged New York's Charles Schumer as Reid's likely successor in the role of Senate minority leader. Schumer is a legislator who's willing to compromise, seems to enjoy fundraising, and loves talking to the press, which are three traits the position demands. He also has a blue-state seat that seems unlikely to face a potentially embarrassing Republican challenge; Schumer won 66 percent of the vote in his 2010 re-election campaign.

It seems that Harry Reid agrees with the conventional wisdom on this issue. From the Washington Post:

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in a Friday morning interview at his home in Washington's West End.
Reid predicted that Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat in leadership and a close friend, would win the Democratic leader post without opposition. He said that the other likely contender, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would stand down for Schumer.

Durbin and Schumer don't seem to have publicly commented on their plans yet. Elizabeth Warren, the prominently liberal first-term Massachusetts senator beloved by activists, says she will not seek to become Reid's successor.

March 27 2015 9:53 AM

Crashed Plane’s Co-Pilot “Hid” an “Illness” From Lufthansa, German Prosecutors Say

German prosecutors say that pilot Andreas Lubitz, suspected of intentionally crashing Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, may have hid an "illness" from his "employer and colleagues," while multiple German publications report that he had issues with depression. From the New York Times:

Prosecutors said that among the items found at Mr. Lubitz’s home was a doctor’s note excusing him from work on the day of the crash, and another note that had been torn up ... The German investigators said they had not found a suicide note or “any indication of a political or religious” nature among the documents secured in Mr. Lubitz’s apartment. “However, documents were secured containing medical information that indicates an illness and corresponding treatment by doctors,” Ralf Herrenbrück, a spokesman for prosecutors in Düsseldorf, said in a statement.

Per the BBC, the German tabloid Bild says Lubitz had a "severe depressive episode" in 2009. The paper Der Tagesspiegel reports via a source that Lubitz was being treated for depression at a university clinic in Dusseldorf, and both Bild and another outlet say that a note in his "aviation authority file" recommended regular psychological treatment.

March 27 2015 9:15 AM

Harry Reid Won’t Run for Re-Election in 2016

Harry Reid, the 75-year-old six-term Nevada senator who has led Senate Democrats since 2005 and currently serves as minority leader, announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2016. New York Sen. Charles Schumer is considered the favorite to take over Reid's party leadership position. From the New York Times:

Mr. Reid, 75, who suffered serious eye and facial injuries in a Jan. 1 exercise accident at his Las Vegas home, said he had been contemplating retiring from the Senate for months. He said his decision was not attributable either to the accident or to his demotion to minority leader after Democrats lost the majority in November’s midterm elections.

Reid added that avoiding a high-profile Republican challenge to his re-election in Nevada would allow Democrats to divert campaign money to other potentially competitive races, in Maryland, Florida, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. In Maryland, long-serving Democratic Sen. Barbara Milkulski is retiring; in Missouri and Pennsylvania, Republicans Roy Blunt and Pat Toomey are running for re-electon; in Florida, Marco Rubio may be vacating his seat for a presidential run.

A statement from the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Reid is now "irrelevant and a lame duck."

March 26 2015 8:01 PM

McDonald’s Launches Big Mac Fashion Line in Case You’ll Wear One Even if You Won’t Eat One

McDonald’s is having a bit of an existential crisis at the moment. Its sales numbers continue to slide—perhaps because the exchange rate for “lovin’ ” isn’t what they anticipated it would be—and the company is looking for ways to reinvent itself, to make its glorious comeback. Until that eureka moment dawns on the company’s executives, here’s their interim big idea to get the mojo flowing again: a Big Mac fashion line. If the internal company memo announcing this grand plan wasn’t titled If People Don’t Like Eating It, Maybe They’ll Like Wearing It—it should have been.

The online shop launched in Sweden this week because Swedes apparently have already bought everything else in the world or were just in the market for some hamburger-themed wallpaper. Along with Big Mac wallpaper these are also burger thermals and linens for the Big Mac–lover in your life.

Unlike the McDonald’s menu, these lifestyle accessories are not cheap—most of the products are in the $50 range. While the clothing line probably isn’t the silver bullet to restore the company to profitability (the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House charities), at least we can look forward to a higher quotient of hipster irony out of the company. Because that’s what this is, right?


March 26 2015 7:30 PM

The 2013 Airplane Crash That Is Eerily Similar to the Germanwings Tragedy

The initial evidence suggests that the first officer of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, a 27-year-old German named Andreas Lubitz, locked himself in the cockpit and flew the plane into the ground, deliberately killing himself and the 149 others on board. It’s hard to overemphasize how unusual this is—nothing like this has ever happened aboard a European or North American carrier before—but it’s not totally unprecedented. Around the world, a number of pilot-suicides have taken place in recent years, including one that bears uncanny similarities to Tuesday’s crash.

At 11:26 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2013, LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 took off from Maputo, Mozambique bound for Luanda, Angola with 27 passengers and six crewmembers. LAM is not a great airline—it’s been banned from flying in Europe—but the plane, an Embraer E-190 narrowbody, was nearly new, having been delivered to the airline just the year before. About halfway through the flight, shortly after 1 p.m. local time, the plane was passing over Botswana when the co-pilot left his seat to go to the bathroom.

Left alone in the cockpit, the captain, Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, locked the door and changed the autopilot altitude setting from 38,000 feet to 592 feet, which happened to be lower than the elevation of the terrain in that region. He also deployed the plane’s spoilers, which protrude from the wing to reduce lift and make the plane descend more quickly. Over the next eight minutes, the plane descended at about 6,000 feet per minute, somewhat faster than Germanwings 9525 but considerably more slowly than SilkAir Flight 185, whose pilot put the nose down and flew the plane into the surface at tremendous speed.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up sounds of shouts and banging on the cockpit door as the first officer struggled to gain access, to no avail. The plane crashed into a swamp in Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park amid heavy rain in an area so remote that it took recovery teams 24 hours to reach it. Due to dangers posed by roaming lions, the search team was armed with rifles.

The force of the impact clearly had been tremendous: Only one body was recovered intact. “There is no plane. There are just pieces of metal scattered around,” an official declared.

To this day, the motive for the pilot’s actions remain unclear, though rumors have circulated online that he was struggling with domestic problems. Mozambique has still not issued a final report on the crash. Yet what little we do know about the case does line up eerily with what little we know so far about the Germanwings crash: the perpetrator who waits until he is left alone in the cockpit, then appears to lock his colleague out; the use of autopilot to command an orderly descent down into the ground; the resulting high-speed crash that leaves the aircraft ripped to shreds, without the slightest possibility of survival.

An air of mystery surrounding the incident is not unusual in cases of what appear to be pilot suicides. Such a horrific act, in which an individual not only takes his only life but slaughters the passengers who have been put into his care, defies easy psychological classification. Suicide notes are rare, as are words of explanation on cockpit voice recorders. With the pilot dead, and the scene of the crime destroyed, all that remains is the unsolvable riddle: Why?