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Aug. 4 2015 10:56 PM

Drone Drug Delivery Sets Off Inmate Fight At Ohio Correctional Facility

A drone carrying drugs and other contraband dropped its payload over a yard of inmates at the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio recently, but the delivery evidently didn't go as planned. From the Mansfield News Journal:

According to the [Ohio Department of Corrections], on July 27 a fight broke out on the north recreation yard, and corrections officers Jade Wojciechowski and Melinda Hane called for assistance and gave orders for the inmates to stop fighting. Other inmates on both north and south recreation began running in the general direction of the fight. The officers then used pepper spray to control the fight and ordered all inmates to get on the ground. The inmates complied and remained on the ground as other staff responded.
All inmates (approximately 75 on north recreation and 130 on south recreation) were removed from the recreation yards to the gyms, where they were strip searched, run through the cell sensor, and clinic checked. The nine fighters were placed in solitary confinement status. There were no injuries to any staff or inmates, according to a report from ODRC.
Upon reviewing the cameras, it was determined that a drone passed over the recreation yards immediately before the fight began. Further investigation revealed the drone dropped off a package intended for an inmate. The package was picked up on the north recreation yard, setting off a fight. The package was then thrown over the fence to the south recreation yard, according to ODRC.
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The package's contents, newly detailed by state authorities, included "144.5 grams of tobacco, 65.4 grams of marijuana, and 6.6 grams of heroin," the News Journal reported.

The Guardian adds that highway patrol officers working in the area have recently ramped up efforts to catch conspirators on the outside who approach the prison in order to throw contraband to inmates. The crackdown could provide one possible explanation for the move toward attaching deliveries to small, hard-to-detect unmanned aircraft rather than pitching them over the wall.

Drones have come in for criticism lately due to the actions of a few morons who own them. When drones aren't grounding tanker planes that are trying to put out wildfires, they're heedlessly dipping between passenger jets at busy airports and now, evidently, they've been repurposed to air-drop heroin to inmates. The Guardian reports that authorities at Mansfield are aware of "other instances of drones breaching security" and are working to better detect them in the future.

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Aug. 4 2015 9:24 PM

Locusts Boldly Defy Russian Government, Feast on Country's Tasty Crops in Historic Invasion

Harrowing video from southern Russia shows swarms of locusts blanketing parts of the country, wiping out whole fields of crops and persisting in the face of government attempts at eradication. CNN reports that the invasion is on a scale that local officials say has not been seen in more than 30 years. 

Farmers, stuck with fields of crops chewed to stubs by the pests, are frustrated that the government has been unable to provide relief. The Ministry of Agriculture has declared a state of emergency and pesticide-spraying planes have made passes over affected areas with little result, a failure authorities attribute to unusually high temperatures. The swarms, they say, are also highly mobile, moving quickly to new areas as they gobble up the local food supply.

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The locusts are notable not only for their large numbers, but for their intimidating size. Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the above video is the rustling-paper sound generated by thousands of substantial wings taking flight, and CNN attributes to Tatiana Drishcheva of the Russia Agricultural Center this daunting description of the insects: "They have wingspans of nearly 12 centimeters, like a small sparrow."

Aug. 4 2015 7:56 PM

Shrimp Boy, Derf, Mayor Lee Among Players in San Francisco Corruption Probe

Documents filed Tuesday in federal court in California by defense attorneys for Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow make a number of explosive allegations against elected officials in San Francisco, accusing prosecutors of protecting "bottom feeding political types" who have allegedly escaped punishment after engaging in corruption uncovered by the investigation into Shrimp Boy's criminal enterprise.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that Chow's attorneys have asked for the case against him to be dropped, claiming federal authorities have engaged in "selective prosecution" by bringing charges against Chow while ignoring FBI evidence that implicates a number of government actors, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

"The government has admitted the political corruption investigation which sought to ensnare many Bay Area political figures, was instigated contrary to desire of the government; what it has not admitted is that it resulted in snagging at least a dozen bottom feeding political types," said the filing by Chow’s legal team, which includes attorneys Tony Sera, Curtis Briggs and Greg Bentley.
The filing, which quotes from and references FBI wiretaps, body wires, phone taps, agents and sources, gives a new glimpse into the breadth and depth of the years-long FBI probe into organized crime in Chinatown and alleged political corruption in San Francisco, the Bay Area and the state.
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The investigation into Shrimp Boy's Chinatown gang empire has already resulted in California state Sen. Leland Yee pleading guilty to racketeering after he was implicated alongside Chow in a weapons trafficking scheme. Chow's defense team now claims that a Yee associate, businessman Derf Butler, also funnelled "untraceable debit cards for clothing and trips" to San Francisco City Supervisor London Breed.

The new allegations against San Francisco's mayor are somewhat convoluted, befitting the overall tenor of the case, which is set to result in a trials for two dozen defendants starting this month. Mayor Lee is accused of using officials in his administration, including the city's former Human Rights Commissioner, to help solicit and "launder" bribes and that Lee "knew he was taking the money illegally," according to the Examiner.

Chow, who before his arrest was heralded by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other state leaders as an example of a reformed gang member gone straight, complained last year that court-imposed gag orders have prevented him from defending himself by disclosing what he knows about other players in the San Francisco criminal/political complex, while prosecutors have been able to make the case against him to a potential jury pool. Chow seems more than ready to talk about what he says the government already knows: that Bay Area politicians were apparently caught by the same net that snagged him but have so far been able to slip away from the consequences.

Aug. 4 2015 6:11 PM

1970s British Prime Minister Who Died in 2005 Is Subject of Child Sex Abuse Investigations

Four law enforcement agencies in the U.K. are investigating claims that Edward Heath—the country’s Conservative prime minister from 1970 to 1974—sexually abused children, the Guardian reports. Heath, who died in 2005, is the most prominent politician who has been accused of such abuse in an ongoing series of scandals implicating a disturbingly long list of British public figures.

Per the Guardian, Heath is being investigated by police forces in Jersey, Kent, and London as well as by the national Independent Police Complaints Commission in a case related to a complaint made in Wiltshire. News reports on the cases are fairly vague, the only detail on a specific crime Heath is accused of having come from a sensationalistic piece in the tabloid Daily Mirror based on the account of an individual who doesn't appear to have spoken to authorities yet.

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Heath was succeeded as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.

A massive number of accusations of sexual abuse of minors have also been made in recent years against other powerful British figures—by one official count, some 260 "high-profile" men (some living and some dead) are the subject of current investigations, and a number have been convicted of crimes. Several of the investigations are centered around children's homes, hostels, and the like, which are suspected of having been the locations of numerous assaults perpetrated by different individuals. Besides Heath, the most well-known figure to have been implicated is likely BBC host and entertainer Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011. Some of the allegations against Savile were made before his death, but he was never prosecuted; subsequent investigations found evidence of some 500 allegations of abuse against him in total.

A national authority called the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has been created, under the auspices of the national Home Office, to investigate the culpability of institutions including police, schools, courts, and others in failing to prevent or adequately uncover and punish what seems to have been widespread criminal sexual conduct. The first two proposed chairs of the committee withdrew because of concerns that they were too connected to people and entities that might need to be scrutinized; the judge ultimately selected as chair is not even from the U.K. proper but, rather, from New Zealand.

Aug. 4 2015 6:03 PM

The Fox News Debate Stage Is Set. Here's Who Made the Cut.

It's official: Fox News on Tuesday announced its chosen line-up for this year's first Republican presidential debate, which will be held in Cleveland on Thursday night.

The candidates who made the cut: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.

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And those who didn't: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore.

Fox faced significant criticism from pollsters, the press, and some of the candidates themselves in the lead-up to the announcement—both because the network was noticeably (and conveniently!) vague about which five polls it would use to compile its all-important average, and because using national polls in the first place wasn't exactly the most mathematically sound idea. Those concerns, though, will take a back seat come Thursday when the lucky ten candidates take the stage at 9 p.m. ET.

Even with the network-imposed cap, the chosen candidates are likely to have a tough time standing out on what will still be a historically crowded debate stage. The moderators are expected to try to limit the White House hopefuls to 60-second answers and 30-second rebuttals. (Good luck!) When you factor in commercial breaks and introductions, candidates will probably average less than 10 minutes of speaking time apiece during the two-hour event.

And, of course, there's the Trump factor that everyone will have to deal with. Regardless of whether Donald Trump plays it boardroom brash or statesman-like civil, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the current GOP frontrunner isn't one of the major stories coming out of the debate.

Still, even a candidate who is relegated to the prime-time periphery by The Donald and his establishment rivals is likely to be better off than the unlucky seven GOP hopefuls who didn't make the cut. Those candidates will have the chance to participate in an hour-long candidate forum in the much less attractive 5 p.m hour—an event that has been dubbed the kids' table and that Graham, who's known his fate for weeks, has tried his best to rebrand as the Happy Hour Debate. (Graham's punchline: "By nine o'clock, Donald may make sense to you, if you drink enough.")

The format of that event remains a bit of a mystery. Given the Republican National Committee's strict rules against candidates competing in non-sanctioned debates, it's possible that Fox News may need to get creative to make it clear that the forum isn't a debate between the candidates. And, as Monday's C-SPAN-televised Voters First Forum in New Hampshire made clear, a high-speed cattle call doesn't make for the most compelling television.  

Aug. 4 2015 4:02 PM

The Real Reason the Iran Debate Is So Heated: It’s Actually About 2016

The White House is now trotting out John F. Kennedy as part of its ongoing effort to sell Congress and the public on the recently negotiated deal with Iran. On Wednesday, President Obama will give yet another speech to the nation defending the deal, this one at American University—a location chosen as an invocation of Kennedy’s famous 1963 address on Cold War nuclear diplomacy.

Obama’s sales pitch has already included his initial remarks to the nation after the deal was announced, a feisty press conference on July 15, a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and phone calls to the undecided lawmakers considering whether to vote in favor of the agreement. Wednesday’s speech will come after a recent CNN poll showing a majority of Americans want congress to reject the deal.

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Congress has until mid-September to decide whether to pass a resolution blocking the deal. Obama has vowed to veto the resolution, though he would obviously prefer not to. There’s almost certainly enough support to pass a resolution in the House—one congressman claims 218 members, including two Democrats, are already on board. But for a veto-proof, two-thirds majority, the GOP will need all 28 remaining Republicans and 44 Democrats—a tall order.

On the Senate side, Arizona’s Jeff Flake is the only Republican who might conceivably support the deal. But assuming his party can bring him in line, it would still require six Democrats to pass a resolution and 14 to override Obama’s veto.

The undecided Democrats in both houses, particularly the Jewish members, are currently the targets of a massive lobbying campaign from both sides. A group set up by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is planning to spend between $20 million and $40 million lobbying against the deal. Raising the rhetorical stakes, the president has compared critics of the deal to backers of the Iraq war who went on to regret their votes.

So far, it seems like Obama is winning: In the House, the White House has recently picked up the support of Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a prominent member of the House Jewish Caucus, and Michigan’s Sandy Levin, the House’s longest-serving Jewish member. On the Senate side, the White House picked up a major endorsement today with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine, who has been a critic of the administration’s foreign policy on constitutional grounds, was one of the most prominent backers of the legislation setting up the congressional review period, but whatever concerns he had about the agreement itself have apparently been met. Conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia seems to be leaning toward backing the White House as well.

Hawkish Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey seems likely to vote with the GOP to kill the deal. And a few senators seem genuinely on the fence, including Delaware’s Chris Coons and Virginia’s Mark Warner. New York’s Chuck Schumer insists he’s undecided but seems to be leaning toward opposing the deal. Schumer, with impeccable pro-Israel bona fides and likely the next Democratic leader, is undoubtedly the biggest prize for both sides.

Overriding Obama’s veto is real long shot. But even if they can’t block the deal, Republicans are looking ahead to the campaign against Hillary Clinton, who quickly endorsed the deal and, as former secretary of state, will inevitably be tied to Obama’s foreign policy, though she was generally more hawkish than the president on Iran.

Public approval and disapproval of the agreement is softer than both sides claim—answers vary significantly depending on how pollsters ask the question. Obama probably has the votes to put the agreement in place. But if he has to use a veto to push it through narrowly over the objections of prominent Democrats, including the party’s Senate leader and most prominent Jewish member, it becomes a much more effective line of attack against Clinton. Given that at least one prominent GOP candidate has promised to throw out the deal on the first day of his presidency, that raises the stakes of this debate significantly.

Aug. 4 2015 2:14 PM

India Blocks 857 Porn Sites on Advice of Activist Who Says Porn Is Worse Than Hitler, AIDS, and Nuclear War

A 43-year-old Indian lawyer's formal request for a nationwide ban on access to 857 specific pornographic websites was rejected by the country's Supreme Court but appears to have been enacted by the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reports say. From the New York Times:

The activist, Kamlesh Vaswani, a lawyer who failed to persuade the Supreme Court to block online pornography, gave thanks on Monday to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking a step that the Supreme Court would not. “Under Prime Minister Modi’s good governance and the good faith with which this government has been working,” Mr. Vaswani said in an interview, “they have been instrumental in blocking the 857 websites that I have been looking to get blocked.”
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Vaswani says he made the list himself with the help of a college professor and that it constitutes the country's most popular porn sites.

“Nothing can more efficiently destroy a person, fizzle their mind, evaporate their future, eliminate their potential or destroy society like pornography,” Mr. Vaswani wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court. “It is worse than Hitler, worse than AIDS, cancer or any other epidemic,” he added. “It is more catastrophic than nuclear holocaust, and it must be stopped.”

India's most Googled person in 2014, outpacing Prime Minister Modi, was an Indian-Canadian actress named Sunny Leone who has appeared in both pornographic and mainstream movies. Leone's Wikipedia page includes some very unique and memorable sentences, none of which I am going to quote here, because I don't want to get fired.

Aug. 4 2015 2:12 PM

Netanyahu Condemns Jewish Extremist Violence, but His Policies Foster It

Two events last week have forced Israel to reckon with its long-simmering problem of Jewish extremist violence. On Thursday a 16-year-old Jewish girl was stabbed to death at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade by an ultra-Orthodox man who had carried out a similar attack in 2005. Then on Friday a Palestinian toddler was killed when his home was set on fire in the West Bank town of Duma in what authorities believe was a “price tag” attack by extremist settlers.

These attacks, which began after the 2005 evacuation of settlers from Gaza, are designed to impose a cost, in the form of violence, for any Israeli government move to dismantle settlements. Friday’s attack followed the IDF’s eviction of about 20 settler families who had been camped out in a previously razed settlement. The Duma attack was at least the fifth such incident of vandalism or arson against mosques, Christian churches, and Palestinian property so far this year, but the first to result in a death.

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Investigators say that the attack was likely the work of an underground faction of settler youth who’ve become even more radical, seeking to destabilize the Israeli state and replace it with one based on religious law. The Israeli government has described the attack as an act of terrorism and has arrested 23-year-old suspected extremist leader Meir Ettinger. Ettinger is the grandson of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from the Israeli Knesset in 1988 for its openly racist views. Israel’s security Cabinet has authorized the use of “administrative detention”—the holding of suspects without charges for security reasons—against Jewish extremists. The tactic is commonly employed with Palestinian suspects but rarely against Jews. Harsh interrogation methods including tiltul­, or “violent shaking” of suspects, has also been authorized.

The attack also prompted a call from Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the attack, and a condolence message to the family. There have already been riots in response to the attack and several apparent retaliatory attacks, including a Molotov cocktail attack that seriously injured a woman in Jerusalem, and Benjamin Netanyahu says he is waiting for the world to condemn attacks against Jews as forcefully as it does attacks against Palestinians. As he has after previous attacks, Netanyahu said that Israel’s condemnation of all forms of terrorism distinguishes it from its Palestinian neighbors.

It might be comforting to think this recent violence is just the work of a small group of isolated extremists who can be tracked down and eliminated, but the problem is more deeply rooted than that. Netanyahu may have said all the right things after the attack on the gay pride parade, but his Cabinet includes the right-wing Jewish Home party, whose lawmaker denounced the event as a “parade of beasts” and refused to back down on that assessment even after the killing.  

As for the price tag attacks, they may be aimed at punishing (and at times directly attacking) the Israeli state, but the authorities have been slow to react to them and much less likely to prosecute them than attacks by Palestinians. That’s hopefully starting to change, but the expansion of settlements is not: At the same time as the recent standoff with rogue settlers in unauthorized areas, the prime minister’s office announced plans for the construction of hundreds of housing units in another area of the West Bank. Without a resolution of the status of the West Bank, Palestinian anger—not just at the settlements and the occupation but at a Palestinian Authority government widely viewed as corrupt and ineffectual—will grow, and settler extremists operating in a state of legal limbo will continue to feel they can act with impunity.

Aug. 4 2015 1:46 PM

Buried in Obama’s Climate Plan: A Promise of Business as Usual to the Fossil Fuel Industry

On Monday, President Obama presented the final version of his centerpiece climate plan to much fanfare. But despite the bravado with which the plan was announced, it’s not even designed to produce a significant shift in the uptake of renewable energy.

It turns out that the president’s plan just perpetuates business as usual, with natural gas as the biggest winner. In 2030, natural gas will be the dominant source of electricity generation in America, a trend that’s already well underway. Despite the plan’s headline focus on eliminating coal, if you dig into the lengthy text, the targets call for an even slower transition from coal to natural gas over the next 15 years than we’ve had over the last 10. James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who has raised increasingly dire climate warnings, called Obama's plan "practically worthless."

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Buried on Page 636, the climate plan states that targets are:

…fully consistent with the recent changes and current trends in electricity generation, and as a result, would by no means entail fundamental redirection of the energy sector.

That thought continues on the next page:

We expect that the main impact of this rule on the nation’s mix of generation will be to reduce coal-fired generation, but in an amount and by a rate that is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation. Specifically, from approximately 2005 to 2014, coal-fired generation declined at a rate that was greater than the rate of reduced coal-fired generation that we expect to result from this rulemaking from 2015 to 2030. In addition, under this rule, the trends for all other types of generation, including natural gas-fired generation, nuclear generation, and renewable generation, will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.

As many observers have pointed out, this is further evidence that the president’s flagship climate initiative won’t do much to cut carbon emissions beyond what’s already happening. In fact, in another telling passage on Page 17 of the full text of the new plan, by 2030, "coal and natural gas will remain the two leading sources of electricity."

As Politico’s Michael Grunwald notes, that means America’s overall decarbonization will also actually slow over the next 15 years, not speed up, as a result of Obama’s plan. In an op-ed on Tuesday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg points out that it’s easy to regulate a dying industry: “We are already halfway to the EPA’s goal—seven years before its rules take full effect, and before many of the coal plant closings that are scheduled to happen over the next decade.” Those coal plant closings would have happened without Obama’s new rules, thanks to growing public opposition and economic headwinds. As Bloomberg puts it, “King Coal is dying of natural causes.” In fact, another big coal company declared bankruptcy on Monday, hours before Obama’s plan was announced. Obama’s climate plan fails to meaningfully build on this trend that’s already in place.

To be fair, as Vox’s David Roberts points out, if the economy grows more quickly than expected over the next 15 years, the president’s plan will help lock in coal’s downward spiral. But that’s little comfort when you realize the monumental importance of quick action that science says is necessary.

Given the current political climate, maybe setting such a low bar for climate action was inevitable. But by boasting about such an incremental change, Obama is actually making it more difficult for truly bold climate action to pass through Congress in the coming years. If Republicans are already putting up such a fight to what is essentially a business-as-usual plan, it’s difficult to imagine they’d put their weight behind a more meaningful one without serious concessions.

Aug. 4 2015 12:57 PM

Reminder: You Can’t Out-Trump Donald Trump

On Monday, Gawker published Donald Trump’s cellphone number and urged readers to call the current GOP front-runner and ask him about "his important ideas." It was a clever stunt that came in response to Trump pulling a similar prank on Lindsey Graham earlier this summer. The New York Times went as far as to declare that “Trump was trumped” by Gawker.

No one, though, out-Trumps Trump—a fact the billionaire businessman proved yet again on Tuesday:

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That’s the same number that Gawker published. (I got a busy signal when I gave it a ring this afternoon, FWIW.)

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