Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Oct. 1 2014 9:11 PM

With Ice Melted, 35,000 Walruses Now Come Onshore in Alaska  

Climate change is having a pretty startling impact on the Pacific walrus. Once, the creatures used sea ice as resting spots, but as Arctic summers have warmed, and summer sea ice eroded, the walruses have begun coming ashore in record numbers on the Alaskan coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed, and photographed, an estimated 35,000 walrus gathering during a recent aerial survey of arctic marine mammals.

More on the phenomenon from the Associated Press:

The gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed. Pacific walrus spend winters in the Bering Sea. Females give birth on sea ice and use ice as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf. Unlike seals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely and must rest. They use their tusks to "haul out," or pull themselves onto ice or rocks. As temperatures warm in summer, the edge of the sea ice recedes north. Females and their young ride the edge of the sea ice into the Chukchi Sea, the body of water north of the Bering Strait. In recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond shallow continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water, where depths exceed 2 miles and walrus cannot dive to the bottom. Young animals are vulnerable to stampedes when a group gathers nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on a beach. Stampedes can be triggered by a polar bear, human hunter or low-flying airplane… Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stamped.
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Oct. 1 2014 7:56 PM

Reports of Ferguson Grand Jury Misconduct Prompts Investigation

The grand jury charged with deciding whether Darren Wilson—the Ferguson police officer responsible for the death of Michael Brown—is under investigation for misconduct, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The potential misconduct revolves around a tweet posted on Wednesday appearing to imply that a member of the grand jury discussed confidential portions of the case with a friend. Here’s a screenshot of tweet:

The tweet has been deleted, as has the user’s entire Twitter account. Ed Magee, spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor, told the Post they received information regarding potential misconduct by a member of the grand jury from a “Twitter user” Wednesday morning and were investigating the matter. “Grand jury proceedings are confidential and if there has been a breach, the prosecutor’s office may have to start over with a newly empaneled group,” according to the Post. The grand jury has been weighing evidence in the case since late August and, the Post reports, was wrapping up its deliberations on whether or not Wilson will face charges for Michael Brown’s death.

Oct. 1 2014 7:14 PM

Florida Man Who Killed Black Teenager Over Loud Rap Music Is Convicted of Murder

A Jacksonville jury found Michael Dunn guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday for the fatal 2012 shooting of an unarmed teenager. The shooting took place during an argument at a gas station over the volume of the rap music coming from 17-year-old Jordan Davis' car.

The 47-year-old Dunn testified that he shot at Davis in his Dodge Durango out of self-defense when—after asking for the music to be turned down—“Davis called him a ‘cracker,’ threatened to ‘kill’ him, pointed a shotgun at him from inside the Durango and then tried to get out of the car,” the New York Times reports. “Prosecutors undermined Mr. Dunn’s claim of self-defense by telling jurors that no gun was found in the Durango or in the surrounding area, and that no witnesses ever saw a gun or saw Mr. Davis try to get out of the car.” Dunn fired 10 shots at the car, three of which struck Davis. Dunn’s former fiancée also testified Dunn had complained about the “thug” music and never claimed at the time of the shooting that he had acted out of self-defense.

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The racially charged case came on the heels of the Trayvon Martin shooting by George Zimmerman. Dunn, a software developer, is white; Davis is black. This was Dunn’s second time before a jury. “In February, he was convicted of three counts of second-degree attempted murder — one for each of the surviving teenagers in the Dodge Durango — a crime for which he could receive a 60-year prison sentence,” according to the Times. “But that jury could not unanimously agree whether Mr. Dunn killed Mr. Davis in self-defense or in a fit of rage on Nov. 23, 2012. The mistrial prompted the county’s top prosecutor to retry Mr. Dunn for first-degree murder.”

With the guilty verdict Dunn now faces a potential sentence of life in prison without parole.

Oct. 1 2014 6:37 PM

Los Angeles Magazine Has a Plausible Theory About the Unsolved Murder of Bugsy Siegel

Bugsy Siegel is one of the most epic American gangsters—born in Brooklyn, trained in crime on the Lower East Side, made legendary by Las Vegas, and shot to death in Beverly Hills. His murder has never been solved, and befitting someone who spent his life committing violence and theft, there are a number of credible theories about who killed him and why. Los Angeles magazine proposes one in an excellent new piece about the late Bee Sedway—the wife of Bugsy's best friend, Moe—and her son Robbie, who kept their own explanation of Bugsy's death in the family for decades. I won't spoil it here, but should say that the piece is worth reading not just for its contribution to Bugsy-ology and its noir details of gangster L.A. but because of its account of Bee and Robbie and her second husband, "Moose"—of what happens after the gangster movie is over and real life, as it were, continues for those who survived. How the most unusual of lives fade into normalcy, and maybe fade out altogether:

His brother, Johnny—the one who introduced Moose to Bee—died in 1995. After some searching, I find Johnny’s son, John Steven Pandza Jr., who lives in Yucaipa. Steve, as he’s known, buys and sells used construction equipment now, but he spent many of his 63 years in the same profession that his father and uncle mastered before him: crane operator...
He’s long suspected his family had secrets, he says, adding that his father once told him, “One of these days we’re gonna have to sit down and talk about your family history, because there are some interesting things that went on in L.A. that your family was involved in.” That conversation never happened, Steve says, but “I took it as dark history.”
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Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM

Secret Service Director Resigns

Secret Service director Julia Pierson has resigned after a cascading series of revelations about agency lapses. In recent weeks, the organization had admitted that:

  • It had allowed disturbed, armed Iraq veteran Omar Gonzalez to climb the White House fence and enter the building before he was apprehended near the door
  • It did not realize that gunshots had hit the White House until four days after a 2011 incident
  • It had allowed an armed felon to ride in an elevator with President Obama on September 16
  • It had not actually apprehended Gonzalez when he entered the White House, but had in fact allowed him to run into the building's East Room before he was caught
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A former agent named Joe Clancy, who retired in 2011, will act as interim director. Pierson had worked for the Secret Service for 30 years.

Oct. 1 2014 2:25 PM

Michigan Football Mishandled Sexual Assault Case in Same Way It's Mishandled Concussion

Though it doesn't seem to most observers that Brady Hoke will or should be Michigan's football coach for much longer, some pundits have charged that the mishandling of quarterback Shane Morris's concussion this weekend—only after approximately 60 hours, and repeated denials, did the athletic department admit Morris had played while concussed—is being taken out of proportion by fans who are merely angry that the team is losing. But as Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann noted on Twitter yesterday, the Morris fiasco is not an isolated incident: A similar story of obfuscation played out last fall when Hoke lied about the status of kicker Brendan Gibbons, who was expelled when the university found he had sexually assaulted another student.

The Michigan Daily reported that the associate director of the school's Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) signed a letter dated Nov. 20, 2013 that detailed the finding that Gibbons had committed sexual assault. Three days later, he kicked three extra points in a game against Iowa. On Nov. 30, Gibbons did not play in the Wolverines' season-finale against Ohio State because of what Michigan coach Brady Hoke called a muscle problem. Gibbons was notified in a letter dated Dec. 19 that he was dismissed from the school, according to The Michigan Daily. Then, on Dec. 23, Hoke announced that a "family matter" would prevent Gibbons from playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
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It's unclear if Gibbons was actually injured before the Ohio State game—a spokesperson said that detail could not be discussed because of privacy issues after the news ultimately came out that he'd been expelled. (Which doesn't make a lot of sense—if it was OK privacy-wise to say he was injured in the first place, why wouldn't be OK to then say he wasn't?) But it's certain that saying a "family matter" prevented Gibbons from playing in the bowl game after he'd been expelled is a complete misrepresentation of the situation—and a valid reason not to give Hoke (and other school officials) the benefit of the doubt as they deploy the same "ignore, then dissemble" tactics during this current mess.

Oct. 1 2014 1:12 PM

Muslim Writer Attacks Las Vegas-ization of Mecca in Times

A New York Times op-ed today details a conflict within Islam that will resonate with anyone whose hometown has ever been the site of backlash against new construction and sprawl, which is to say, pretty much everyone in the United States who doesn't live in Las Vegas. The piece by Ziauddin Sardar describes a version of the familiar preservationists versus developers debate taking place in one of the highest-stakes locations imaginable—namely, Mecca, a place so important to hundreds of millions of people that its name is a synonym for "a place that is important to people." Writes Sardar:

Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.
The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.
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Given the general association between religion and tradition, the number of historic sites that have been demolished in Mecca to make way for development is shocking. The clocktower skyscraper described above is on the site of a 1781 fortress. Houses belonging to one of Mohammed's wives, one of his closest allies, and his grandson have been torn down to be replaced by bathrooms, a Hilton, and a palace, respectively. Why? Mecca, Sardar explains, is controlled by Saudi interests whose philosophy combines modern materialism with the religious belief that historic sites promote idolatry. (The company performing much of this construction? The Saudi Binladin Group.) Read the whole piece here.

Oct. 1 2014 11:36 AM

Larry Craig Sanctioned for Financing Bathroom Sex Defense With Campaign Funds

A judge says former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig must pay $242,000 because he improperly used campaign money to pay legal fees after his 2007 Minneapolis Airport arrest for signaling to an undercover officer that he wanted to engage in sexual activity in a bathroom stall.*

"Craig incurred the legal costs after seeking to withdraw his guilty plea to one count of disorderly conduct at the airport during a layover from a return flight to Washington from his home," the Washington Post writes. The senator was arrested in June of 2007 and pleaded guilty on Aug. 8, 2007—but news of the incident didn't become public until Roll Call reported it on Aug. 27, 2007, after which the Craig attempted unsuccessfully to withdraw his plea.

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Correction, Oct. 1, 2014: This post originally misstated that Larry Craig was a senator from Montana.

Oct. 1 2014 10:30 AM

Spread of Ebola Appears to Have Been Stopped in Nigeria

The New York Times reports this morning on developments in the West African Ebola outbreak that should be reassuring to anyone concerned about the diagnosis of a man in Dallas with the disease. Namely: The spread of Ebola has apparently been halted in Nigeria, suggesting that an organized response by public health authorities can contain it here as well:

After the first patient — a dying Liberian-American — flew into Lagos on July 20, Ebola spread to 20 other people there and in a smaller city, Port Harcourt.
They have all now died or recovered, and the cure rate — 60 percent — was unusually high for an African outbreak.
Meanwhile, local health workers paid 18,500 face-to-face visits to repeatedly take the temperatures of nearly 900 people who had contact with them. The last confirmed case was detected on Aug. 31, and virtually all contacts have passed the 21-day incubation period without falling ill.
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One key to controlling the disease appears to have been the quick response in tracking down potential infections in those who had contact with the country's first patient; Nigeria was also able to isolate patients in well-equipped medical facilities with proper sanitation standards. Meanwhile, as this Guardian piece points out, many American hospitals are already prepared for the possibility of an Ebola case, and the treament of the three American missionaries who were brought back for care was handled without any other individuals becoming infected.

Sept. 30 2014 10:31 PM

FCC Drops NFL Blackout Rules

If you’ve ever tried to turn on your hometown NFL team, only to have the game blacked out because the stadium wasn’t full, you don’t have the Federal Communications Commission to blame anymore. The FCC voted unanimously on Tuesday to eliminate the decades old blackout rule that prohibited the airing of NFL games on cable and satellite that were not sold out, and therefore not being shown on local stations.

“The action removes Commission protection of the NFL’s current private blackout policy, which requires local broadcast stations to black out a game if a team does not sell a certain percentage of tickets to the game at least 72 hours prior to the game,” the FCC said Tuesday in a statement. The change should be barely noticeable for most NFL fans, as the league has virtually eliminated blackouts in recent years. Last year, the league sold out 99 percent of its games and only two of 256 games went unaired, according to ESPN. That’s in stark contrast to decades past; in the 1970s half of all NFL games were blacked out.

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The FCC addressed these changes in the economics of the league:

The Order finds that the Commission’s sports blackout rules are no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly forty years ago. At that time, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and most NFL games failed to sell out. Today, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare. The NFL is the most profitable sports league in the country, with $6 billion in television revenue per year, and only two games were blacked out last season.

The NFL, however, strongly opposed the change. “While the N.F.L. and its supporters argued that eliminating the blackout rule would endanger the availability of games on free over-the-air television, members of the F.C.C. staff and commissioners said they believed that was unlikely, in part because the current N.F.L. broadcast contract extends through 2022,” the New York Times reports. “The N.F.L., under its agreement with broadcast networks, will still be able to black out a game on broadcast TV. But because of the F.C.C. vote, a cable provider could show a blacked-out game in a market where the broadcast version is blocked.”

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