Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Aug. 27 2014 9:47 AM

Time Warner Internet Goes Out Across the Entire Country

Time Warner internet and OnDemand services went down across the country early this morning, reports indicate. The problem seems to have started around 3 a.m. ET, Business Insider says; service has mostly been restored. The company says "routine network maintenance" that began at 4:30 a.m. ET was responsible for the problem, though that would of course not explain why outages were reported before that time.

Per USA Today, Time Warner "operates in 29 states and has 11.4 million high-speed Internet customers." The company's proposed merger with Comcast is still being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.

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Aug. 26 2014 10:32 PM

Pressure Builds for an Attack on ISIS in Syria

McClatchy's Washington Bureau is reporting that Defense Department officials have joined the chorus of voices calling for President Obama to strike ISIS in Syria. 

From McClatchy

Senior Pentagon officials have been conferring with the White House on hitting Islamic State targets just inside eastern Syria, from where the group launched an atrocity-filled offensive in mid-June that overran roughly half of Iraq and brought it to the outskirts of Baghdad, said two U.S. Defense officials.
The White House, however, has yet to request a formal proposal, said the Defense officials, who expressed frustration over what both separately called the administration’s “dithering.” They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military plans to carry out surveillance flights over Syria to gather more intelligence on ISIS' operations in the region. However, McClatchy reports that Obama administration officials on Tuesday tried to "tamp down" internal and external expectations that a strike against ISIS could be imminent, even after news of the group's execution of American journalist James Foley. 

The Obama admnistration has also ruled out the possibility of collaboration with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on airstrikes, with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki telling reporters Tuesday, "we’re not going to ask for permission from the Syrian regime.”

Defense officials told McClatchy that if airstrikes are carried out in Syria, they will likely be similar in intention and scope to the ones the military has carried out against ISIS in Iraq since August 8.  

Aug. 26 2014 6:39 PM

American Fighting for ISIS Killed in Syria

A 33-year-old American man fighting with ISIS was killed this weekend during a battle with another rebel group, NBC News has reported. The man, Douglas McAuthur McCain, was a resident of San Diego.

Senior administration officials told NBC News they were aware that McCain was killed in Syria and that his family was informed on Monday. The officials added that they believe dozens of Americans have gone to Syria to fight with extremist groups - including, but not limited to, ISIS.

NBC appears to have been working on a story about McCain before he was killed—their piece includes a good deal of information on his background and recent activity. He was born in Illinois, went to high school in Minnesota, and had a few small-time run-ins with the law. He said on his Twitter account that he became a Muslim a decade ago, though his radicalism appears to have been a fairly recent and sudden development:

On April 3, McCain retweeted the full English translation of the speech of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani – the spokesman for ISIS.
Soon after, it appears that McCain’s travels took him to Turkey, a common jihadi route into Syria. Three people told NBC News that they met McCain – who they referred to as Duale – three months ago in in the Istanbul neighborhood of Sultanahmet.

NBC reports that McCain's American passport was found on his person after he died.

Aug. 26 2014 5:20 PM

9-Year-Old Accidentally Kills Shooting Instructor With Uzi at Tourist Shooting Range Outside Vegas

A 9-year-old girl at a shooting range 25 miles from Las Vegas accidentally killed a shooting instructor when she lost control of the Uzi she was firing on its fully automatic setting. From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Spokeswoman Trish Carter said the girl, who was vacationing from New Jersey with her parents, was standing next to the instructor at the time.
Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe said the girl safely and successfully fired the 9 mm weapon several times when it was set in the “single-shot” mode.
He said the weapon was put into the “fully-automatic” mode before the girl fired again with the instructor standing off to her left. The weapon recoiled and drifted left as the girl squeezed off an undetermined number of rounds as she maintained possession but lost control of the Uzi as it raised up above her head.

The incident occurred at the Bullets and Burgers range, whose homepage you can see above. The instructor who died was a 39-year-old man.

The sheriff says no charges will be filed in the case because Bullets and Burgers is "a licensed and legal operation," the Review-Journal writes.

Aug. 26 2014 3:00 PM

Putin Talks With Poroshenko as Russian Soldiers Captured in Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday for the first time since fighting broke out—and as fighting worsened—in Eastern Ukraine. 

From the Associated Press:

The meeting in the Belarusian capital of Minsk came as Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and shelling spread to a new front in the country's southeast. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of supporting and arming the pro-Russian rebels fighting government troops, which Russia always denies.
... Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, Poroshenko said the purpose of his visit was to start searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine would be taken into account.
Putin devoted most of his opening remarks to trade, arguing that Ukraine's decision to sign an association agreement with the 28-nation EU would lead to huge losses for Russia, which would then be forced to protect its economy. Russia had been counting on Ukraine joining a rival economic union it is forming with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Putin's focus on trade is telling, since the conflict in Ukraine arguably began when then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was told by the Kremlin not to sign the EU association agreement. After a revolution ousting Yanukovych, the annexation of Crimea, and the creation of the current crisis in the East, Ukraine has since signed the agreement and is expected to ratify it in September. Given that Poroshenko affirmed his commitment to ratification at a meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton on Tuesday, and that Russian news agency RIA Novosti is quoting a Russian defense ministry source as saying that the captured Russian troops came into Ukraine "by accident," it is perhaps unlikely that resolution to either the trade or military conflicts will be found in Belarus. Still, the two are meeting for their first-ever bilateral talks together behind closed doors Thursday afternoon.

For his part, the president of host country Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, offered that both Russia and Ukraine should "discard political ambitions." Belarus is commonly referred to as Europe's last dictatorship—and is also, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Balázs Jarábik, basically the only rational regional actor involved in the current conflict.

Aug. 26 2014 11:27 AM

Extended Cease-Fire Agreement Reached on Gaza

Update, 1:30 p.m.: Israeli officials confirmed that a long-term cease-fire deal in Gaza was in place on Tuesday. “Israel has once again accepted an Egyptian proposal for a complete cease-fire,” a senior Israeli official told the New York Times. “This cease-fire is unlimited in time.”

Original post: A Hamas spokesman says an agreement for a long-term cease-fire in Gaza has been reached via negotiations in Cairo. From Reuters:

Cairo's initiative, Palestinians officials said, called for an indefinite halt to seven weeks of hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the enclave's fishing zone in the Mediterranean.
Under a second stage that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and an Israeli release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, the officials said.

Support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped drastically as Gaza airstrikes and rocket attacks on Israel have continued, Haaretz reports. "Only 38 percent of Israelis are satisfied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance as the Gaza fighting approaches its 50th day," the paper writes; in mid-July, when Israeli troops invaded Gaza on the ground, Netanyahu's approval number was 82 percent.

Aug. 26 2014 10:06 AM

CNN Posts Alleged Audio of Michael Brown Shooting

An attorney representing a man who says he realized he had inadvertently recorded audio of the Michael Brown shooting has provided that audio to CNN:

Attorney Lopa Blumenthal says the recording was made during a video chat. The audio captures what seem like 10 gunshot sounds—an initial group of six, then a pause, then four more. An autopsy of Brown's body performed at his family's request by an experienced forensic pathologist named Michael Baden indicated Brown was hit by at least six shots.

Eyewitness Dorian Johnson, a friend of Brown's, has said that officer Darren Wilson fired several shots at Brown after Brown had turned toward him and raised his hands. The Baden autopsy indicated that Brown had been shot exclusively in the front of his body.

Blumenthal says the man who made the recording has spoken to the FBI.

Aug. 25 2014 7:50 PM

U.S. Military Preps Surveillance Drones As Syria Warns Against Incursion

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Pentagon is planning to launch surveillance flights over Syria in an effort to gather more intelligence on ISIS. 

From the WSJ

The Pentagon is preparing to send surveillance aircraft, including drones, into Syrian airspace to gather intelligence on Islamist targets, laying the groundwork for a possible expansion of the limited U.S. military air campaign beyond Iraq, senior U.S. officials said.
The move amounts to an acknowledgment that U.S. intelligence-collection efforts must be expanded to provide a better picture of the threat posed by the group calling itself the Islamic State, which holds large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory.

U.S. officials also told the Wall Street Journal that the missions will be conducted without the authorization of Bashar al-Assad's regime and that they do not expect Syrian anti-aircraft systems in the regions targeted to pose a threat to U.S. surveillance aircraft. 

The move comes less than a day after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem warned the U.S. government against unilateral action to counter ISIS in Syria following the group's takeover of a critical airbase in Syria's Raqqah province. “Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror,” he said, according to the AP. “But any effort to combat terrorism should be coordinated with the Syrian government.”

The Journal reports that surveillance flights could begin “shortly.”

Aug. 25 2014 6:05 PM

Hypocritical Pro-Life Doctor Who Had Sex With Patients Ekes Out GOP Primary Win

In 2012, Tennessee Republican Representative Scott DesJarlais was exposed as having had extramarrital affairs, having slept with his medical patients, and having supported his ex-wife's decision to get two abortions before their marriage, despite his staunch public pro-life stance. Roughly one month later, he won re-election to Congress. It seems he may go on to do so again: DesJarlais officially won his Republican primary contest on Monday.

From the Washington Post:

Days after certified election results showed DesJarlais narrowly outpaced state Sen. Jim Tracy by 38 votes in a closely-watched primary in the 4th district, Tracy conceded Monday, citing a desire to avoid a lengthy legal battle without a clear path to erasing his margin, even as he maintained that he saw potential problems with the vote.
...Tracy's concession ends more than two weeks of drama that started after the race was too close to call the morning after the Aug. 7 primary. It also marks a remarkable political comeback for DesJarlais, who has been weighed down by personal scandal.

DesJarlais will go into his race with the Democratic nominee, a retired accountant named Lenda Sherrell, as the favorite in a heaviliy conservative district. Mitt Romney won 65.3 percent of the vote in the Tennessee's fourth district in the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama's 33.1 percent.

Aug. 25 2014 4:08 PM

Does the New York Times’ Michael Brown Profile Really Demonstrate Racial Bias?

The New York Times published a profile of Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown on Sunday, and the piece has itself become a source of controversy. The article, "Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise," has been heavily criticized by both activists and journalists, with specific attention being paid to its fifth paragraph:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

It's not hard to see why this might be upsetting. There are people who believe that Michael Brown was a dangerous "thug" whose aggressive behavior toward Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson justified Wilson's use of deadly force. But Brown had no adult criminal record (though he is suspected in the convenience store robbery that occurred shortly before his death) and no known juvenile record. A widespread rumor that Brown broke Wilson's eye socket has already been debunked, while reactionary assertions that Brown was a gang member are based on evidence that would be laughable were the circumstances of this case not so serious. Even if these far-fetched characterizations and allegations were true, though, the fact remains that Brown was not armed—and was standing 35 feet away from Darren Wilson's police car—when he fell dead after adopting what witnesses have described as a posture of surrender. Wilson's actions, based on the available evidence, were at best questionable and at worst homicidal. So it is understandable that activists and analysts would be concerned that the Times, the "paper of record," was endorsing the fringe idea that Brown should be held responsible for his own death.

But that's not what happened. The Times' piece is not about the incident in which Brown was shot. It doesn't explicitly or implicitly suggest that Wilson may have been justified in killing him, and it definitely doesn't insinuate that Brown was "destined for a life of criminality and destitution," as's Jared Keller writes.

The Times piece, rather, is a profile of Brown's life that, on balance, is positive about the direction he was heading. It puts several statements on the record that contradict the idea that he was a violent or disturbed person. The comments in the piece that are most critical of Brown's character are made by his own parents.

To wit, the Times article characterizes Brown as:

— Someone who "spoke seriously about religion and the Bible" and had recently experienced a renewal of faith. (This is the lede of the piece.)

— Someone who was "pointed toward a trade college and a career."

— Someone who was "joking and outgoing with those close to him."

— Someone who, according to a school official, had worked assiduously to recover from a stretch of poor academic performance—taking a credit recovery class and becoming "the most serious in that class" about his work.

— Someone who, according to a friend, "never threw a real punch."

— Someone who, though he may have come off as edgy on rap tracks, did so because he had "adopted a persona," and who also praised his stepmother in one such song.

It's true that the piece suggests Brown struggled with his grades, could "talk back" to his parents, and may have known some gang members. Those suggestions, though, are made by his father and mother—and if you accept that the Times has the right to profile Brown in the first place, there's no reason why they aren't entitled to mention unflattering information about him that they're given by their sources, especially if those sources are parents and friends who obviously don't have an ax to grind.

Where the Times erred most clearly was in calling Brown "no angel." Out of context of the piece—and in the context of the online smear campaign against Brown—the phrase is indeed alarming. The opposite of an angel is a devil, and the implication could be that "bad people" get what they deserve. Perhaps, but read in sequence with the rest of the story, it seems clear that the "angel" image is meant to play into a quote, attributed to Brown by his father, about seeing an angel and devil in storm clouds and taking them as a sign. (A Times editor said as much today.) "No angel" is a loaded term, and the Times might have thought better than to use it in this context, but it is not indicative of the tone of their profile as a whole. Taken in its entirety, the Times' article about Michael Brown tells the story of his life fairly, in the words of the people who knew him best.

Update, Aug. 25, 4:25 p.m.: The writer of the Times piece, John Eligon, addressed some of the criticism his article has received in an interview with Times public editor Margaret Sullivan.