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April 25 2015 2:44 PM

Brian Williams May Have Lied to The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart

An internal investigation into Brian Williams that is being carried out by NBC News has found six instances in which the suspended anchor is believed to have “fabricated, misrepresented or embellished his accounts,” reports the New York Times. Others hear that the number may be even higher with CNN reporting “at least 10 instances of exaggerations and embellishments” while the Washington Post says the number is “at least 11.”

At least one of the episodes has never been reported before and involves the chaos at Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. Although the Times does not know for sure what part of Williams’ reporting from Egypt is being questioned, it does note that “discrepancies are evident” in accounts that Williams gave in February 2011.

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When he appeared on The Daily Show that month, Williams said he “actually made eye contact with the man on the lead horse” during violent clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters. When Stewart mentioned there were reports of the pro-government men on horses whipping anti-government protesters, Williams made it seem like he saw it first hand. “Yeah,” Williams said, “he went around the corner after I saw him, they pulled out whips and started beating human beings on the way.” But other reports note Williams was not actually in Tahrir Square during the protest.

The investigation, which is being led by senior executive producer Richard Esposito, has also raised questions about Williams’ statements about his experience covering Israel’s military offensive against Hezbollah in 2006, reports the Washington Post.

It is unclear yet whether the results of the internal investigation will be made public. CNN has said that the final report “may be a form of leverage—to either say that Williams has been cleared of further embellishing, or that he's too damaged to return to the Nightly News.” Earlier, the Washington Post reported that staff members at NBC’s Washington bureau were adamant that Williams not return to the anchor chair during a meeting in February. Williams’ suspension ends in early August.

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April 25 2015 10:39 AM

Devastating Nepal Earthquake Kills More Than 1,000, Triggers Everest Avalanche

A devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake has struck Nepal, killing at least 1,180 people across four countries in the country’s worst quake in 80 years. According to the latest Associated Press count, at least 1,130 people were confirmed dead in Nepal, 34 in India, 12 in Tibet, two in Bangladesh, and two more along the Nepal-China border. Everyone warns the death toll will almost certainly continue rising. The earthquake struck between the capital of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the country’s second-largest city, reports the BBC. An hour after the first shallow quake a 6.6-magnitude aftershock struck. There were at least 15 aftershocks of a 4.5 magnitude or greater in Nepal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Emergency rescue workers carry a victim on a stretcher after Dharara tower collapsed on April 25, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images

Aid agencies have appealed for help to care for survivors, who will have to make do without shelter, electricity, or running water, reports CNN. "With every minute the situation becomes worse," said Devendra Tak, of the aid agency Save the Children. "Tonight is going to be a very tough night out there for people in Kathmandu and for people in the surrounding villages."

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Part of the reason why the quake was so devastating was not only its magnitude, but that it was very shallow, experts explained. "The shallowness of the source made the ground-shaking at the surface worse than it would have been for a deeper earthquake," David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, north of London, told the AP.

The earthquake caused an avalanche on Mount Everest that buried part of the base camp, killing at least 10 people. The area is full of tourists, because it’s the start of the main climbing season. An Indian army mountaineering team claims it found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, reports Reuters. The Tourism Ministry estimates there were at least 1,000 climbers, including 400 foreigners, at base camp when the avalanche began, reports Reuters.

Huge disaster.Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area.Many dead.Much more badly injured.More to die if not heli asap.

Posted by Alex Gavan on Saturday, April 25, 2015

Several historical landmarks have been wiped out by the earthquake, including the 19th century Dhararahara tower, and many people are thought to be trapped in the rubble. Several other UNESCO world heritage sites, which are Nepal's main tourist attractions, were destroyed.

This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.

April 25 2015 8:33 AM

The Week in Photos

Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupted on April 22, 2015, spewing a giant funnel of ash high into the sky near the southern port city of Puerto Montt.

April 24 2015 5:54 PM

Sheldon Adelson Bet Big in 2012 and Lost. Has He Learned From His Mistakes?

The Koch brothers are set to play a historic role in 2016, but they’re not the only conservative megadonors who could shape the election. This weekend, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson will host a pair of GOP contenders and a slew of other Republican politicians at one of his Las Vegas hotels. There, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition—but in reality their eyes will be on Adelson, who spent a staggering $100 million in 2012, making him the largest individual donor (non-dark money category) that election cycle .

If Adelson chooses to crack open his checkbook again—and all signs suggest he will—he could have a drastic impact on the GOP nominating contest. In 2012, Adelson almost single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich’s primary bid afloat far longer than it had any right to be by donating $20 million to the former House speaker’s super PAC. Of course, Gingrich is also proof of the limits of deep-pocketed patrons like Adelson. His cash was enough to allow Gingrich to prolong the inevitable, but it wasn’t enough to avoid it. (Adelson’s other political bets didn’t turn out much better for him that year.)

Adelson seems to have learned that lesson. Already there are signs that he plans to spend his cash more wisely this time around. His advisers are saying that he’s determined to cast his lot with a more mainstream candidate in 2016, one that has an actual chance to win the nomination. To prove it, his team has made it known that his current favorite is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who attended last year’s RJC meeting. Via Politico:

April 24 2015 4:39 PM

Obama’s Piecemeal Climate Policy Is Gradually Paying Off

While Obama’s Earth Day speech in the Everglades turned out to be a big nothingburger—except if you’re the parent of a fourth-grader who’ll now receive a free annual National Park pass—there are renewed signs this week that his nickel-and-dime approach to fighting climate change is finally starting to pay off.

I’ve been critical of the president’s climate policy in the past for lacking ambition. Even the much-celebrated deal with China last year only puts our planned domestic carbon cutting at about the middle of the pack, globally. We need to do much more than that to “lead the world,” as Obama said on Wednesday. The proof is in the numbers: America’s greenhouse gas emissions have now risen two years in a row, while global emissions last year stayed flat.

But the fact that current U.S. climate policies probably don’t yet match with our stated goal of reducing emissions by 26-28 percent in the next 10 years is partially offset by Obama’s growing climate influence abroad. We’re not yet leading the world on fighting climate change, but at least we’re not being as willfully obstinate as we had been during past administrations.

On Wednesday, as the president spoke in the Florida swamp, diplomats were gathering in Bangkok to discuss a possible global deal to phase out hydroflorocarbons (HFCs), one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change. This deal wouldn’t be possible without help from the Obama administration.

April 24 2015 4:31 PM

These 17 Earthquake Hazard Zones Were Likely Created in Part by Fracking Wastewater

A United States Geological Survey document released Thursday documents an increase in earthquakes likely caused by human activity, mapping 17 seismically active pockets in eight states. The document is not a study of the causes of the quakes, but rather the preliminary result of an initiative to model and predict future seismic activity; it does note that there has been a "substantial increase" in quake rates since 2009 and that the increase is attributed by other studies to the "injection of wastewater or other fluids in deep disposal wells." Wastewater injection is a technique often associated with hydraulic fracturing. Here's the USGS map of affected areas:

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Screen shot/USGS

<p>"These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby," a USGS official said in a press release.</p>
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Officials in Oklahoma said on Tuesday that it is "very likely that the majority of recent earthquakes" in their state "are triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells." In context, that's a strongly worded statement, and it was described as "significant" by Republican governor Mary Fallin, who also added that "state agencies are already taking action to address this issue and protect homeowners."

April 24 2015 3:51 PM

The U.S. Is Still Dropping Bombs Without Knowing Who Is Under Them

For those who took seriously President Obama’s stated goals of restoring accountability and legal legitimacy to U.S. counterterrorism operations, the 2013 speech at the National Defense University was one of the most significant watersheds of his presidency. In retrospect, though, it was one of the biggest disappointments.

In the speech, Obama pledged to rescind and replace the open-ended post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. Since then, he has continued to use its authority and even launched a war under it—the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He promised to recommit the administration to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. But detainee transfers slowed to a crawl for the first 10 months of 2014, and the Pentagon is now racing to transfer as many as possible before Congress can put a stop to the process entirely. He vowed that whenever possible, the U.S. would seek to capture terrorists rather than kill them in the field. But all indications suggest that targeted killing remains the preferred option for dealing with al-Qaida leaders. Now, we can add “signature strikes”—airstrikes, usually involving drones, targeting what appear to be terrorist facilities rather than specific terrorists—to the list.

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The administration has been extremely reluctant to discuss signature strikes, rebuffing a number of attempts from Congress and the media seeking the legal rationale behind them. But at NDU, Obama appeared to be discussing signature strikes when he said that in defense of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, the U.S. would continue to carry out strikes not only against high-ranking al-Qaida figures, “but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces.” But, he continued, by the end of 2014 when that combat mission was scheduled to end, “we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al-Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.” Officials at the time said that under new guidelines, drones would be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans.” In July 2013 the AP reported that the CIA was operating under much stricter guidelines and had been instructed to drop the practice of signature strikes.

However, yesterday, the administration revealed that a Jan. 15 drone strike in Pakistan killed two hostages, an American and an Italian, as well as an American member of al-Qaida. Officials hadn’t known that any of them were in the compound, and the New York Times reports today that “American officials acknowledged that the Jan. 15 attack was a signature strike, but said that the C.I.A. had assessed with ‘high confidence’ that the compound in the Shawal Valley was being used by Qaeda operatives.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said yesterday that a later strike, which killed American al-Qaida propagandist Adam Gadahn, had not targeted him or any other specific individual. Rather, the CIA had good reason to believe based on intelligence or surveillance merely that it was an al-Qaida compound that al-Qaida leaders were likely to frequent.  

The practice of using “pattern of life” analysis to justify drone strikes was first approved by President Bush in 2008 and became a core part of U.S. counterterrorism practice in Pakistan under Obama. In 2012 a former military official acknowledged to the Washington Post  that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.” The identities of those killed only became clear later. Or as a stark Times headline put it today, the CIA is “often unsure about who will die” when they launch a strike. The practice was approved for use in Yemen in 2012.

Human rights groups, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, have been particularly critical of signature strikes because of the increased potential for civilian casualties. That, sadly, didn’t attract all that much public attention until this week, when one of those casualties turned out to be an American.

The continued use of signature strikes also calls into question other statements about the drone program. For instance, U.S. officials said in February that the U.S. was no longer adding new names to its “kill list” of al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, but that’s much less significant if strikes aren’t specifically targeting people on the list anyway.

It’s not hard to figure out why the strikes are continuing. “Combat operations” may have formally ended in Afghanistan, but there are still U.S. troops in the country and they’re playing a much more active role than was envisaged in 2013. That role may only increase in coming months with concerns growing about ISIS’s expansion and the Taliban formally announcing the start of the 2015 summer fighting season

Whatever the reasons, like other aspects of the drone program, the decision to continue launching strikes without specific information was and continues to be taken without public disclosure. At this point you’d have to be pretty naïve to take this administration’s counterterrorism pledges seriously. 

April 24 2015 2:48 PM

Politician Caught Googling “Historical Figure” After Being Asked to Name Admired Historical Figure

The Washington City Paper has a long history of reporting wryly on the circus of D.C. local politics, and an anecdote in a new piece about D.C. Council candidate Brandon Todd is a particularly strong example of such writing. The paper’s Will Sommer, attending a debate between Todd and other candidates, noticed his subject using what might be termed a prohibited study aid:

During the debate, [I] saw something that Todd’s campaign refuses to discuss: After one of the moderators asked the candidates which historical figure their leadership styles most resembled, Todd quietly started Googling “historical figure” on his phone.
When Todd’s turn at the mic came, he opted for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Not a bad choice, but also one of the first Google results for “historical figure.”
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Indeed:

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Screen shot/Google

Todd, a protégé of city Mayor Muriel Bowser, is expected to win his race easily.

Elsewhere in the D.C. political sphere, the Washington Post reports, a former councilman (and former clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren) is helping promote a successful all-nude male strippers’ night at a local club.

April 24 2015 1:10 PM

Some People in China Hire Sexy Dancers to Perform at Funerals

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s regime has become notorious for strict stances against protests, corruption, drug use, and televised depictions of immorality. On Thursday the Wall Street Journal noted another practice that’s become subject to increased enforcement: funeral stripping.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture on Thursday, the government plans to work closely with the police to eliminate such performances, which are held with the goal of drawing more mourners.
Pictures of a funeral in the city of Handan in northern Hebei province last month showed a dancer removing her bra as assembled parents and children watched. They were widely circulated online, prompting much opprobrium.
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This doesn’t seem like it could possibly be a true thing, but the Journal links to a National Geographic segment from 2012 about similar practices in Taiwan. Here’s a still from the footage:

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Screen shot/National Geographic

I also found an AFP story about the phenomenon from 2011:

Funereal chants are replaced with popular songs and comedy stories. A belly dancer performs, followed by a woman in a leopard-print bustier [and] black leather pants who writhes to a pulsating techno beat.

Lin Shiqing, Liang's niece, explains that the spectacle should not be seen as a lack of respect for the dead.

Other societies truly have so much to offer the United States: their philosophical traditions, their cultures and cuisines, their unique approaches to being a weird, low-rent sleazeball even after you’re dead.

April 24 2015 11:59 AM

Update: Loose Bison in New York State May All Be Shot

Update, 1:55 p.m.: This story has taken a dark turn—at least three of the bison have been shot, and both police and the animals' owner believe the rest will have to be shot as well, apparently because of their potential to cause harm and the difficulty of recapturing them. Meanwhile, one armed man at the scene was arrested by police; one report says he shot at the animals. Other outlets say a number of local hunters have converged on the area.

Original post, 11:59 a.m.: Wait a minute, what?

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Indeed, visual evidence confirms that buffalo are on the loose in upstate New York:

!!!

The Albany Times-Union reports that the herd escaped from a farm in the town of Schodack and have not yet been recaptured. None were injured during the highway crossing.

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