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Feb. 21 2017 5:07 PM

Appeals Court Rules that Second Amendment Doesn’t Protect Right to Assault Weapons

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect assault weapons—an extraordinary decision keenly attuned to the brutal havoc these firearms can wreak. Issued by the court sitting en banc, Tuesday’s decision reversed a previous ruling in which a panel of judges had struck down Maryland’s ban on assault weapons and detachable large capacity magazines. Today’s ruling is a remarkable victory for gun safety advocates and a serious setback for gun proponents who believe the Second Amendment exempts weapons of war from regulation.

In 2013, Maryland passed a law barring the sale, possession, transfer, or purchase of what it dubbed “assault weapons,” including AR-15s, AK-47s, and semiautomatic rifles. It also banned copies of these firearms and large capacity magazines. Gun advocates sued, alleging that the law violated their right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. A district court rejected their claims, but a panel of judges from the 4th Circuit reversed that rejection, holding that the Maryland law infringed on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights—and that gun regulations must be subject to the extremely demanding “strict scrutiny” standard. The full court voted to vacate that decision and rehear the case, and Tuesday’s decision marks a vigorous rejection of that extreme stance.

The majority opinion opens with a disturbing account of several recent mass shootings enabled by the kind of assault weapons that Maryland seeks to ban. In Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Binghamton, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, mass shooters used either military-style rifles or high-capacity magazines, significantly increasing the ultimate death tolls. Newtown, in particular, compelled Maryland to ban these weapons. The state recognized that the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller protects citizens’ right to keep handguns in the home. But it argued that the firearms it had proscribed constituted “dangerous and unusual weapons,” which the Heller court said could be outlawed. Indeed, Maryland pointed out, the Heller court explicitly declares that especially dangerous weapons “that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned.”

Feb. 21 2017 4:59 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Sweden

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.  

At a rally on Saturday, Donald Trump seemed to suggest that Sweden had suffered a terrorist attack the night before, which it had not. Conservative media continues to cover the fallout from those remarks, with many outlets defending and explaining Trump’s comment and, in some cases, suggesting that he was right.

Sean Hannity’s website ran a post titled, “No, Trump Never Said There Was a Terrorist Attack in Sweden.” It noted that he had only advised his audience to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” and cited one of the president’s own tweets, which clarified that he’d been referring to a story broadcast on Fox News the night before his rally.

That broadcast—built around footage from a documentary by Ami Horowitz about refugee violence in Sweden—led HeatStreet to conclude, “Looks Like Donald Trump Was Right About Sweden After All,” though the post itself admits Trump “appears to have been referring to an actual, accurate news report, albeit one that wasn’t technically live or breaking.” Though police officers interviewed in Horowitz’s documentary have objected to its assertions about refugee violence, claiming that their comments were taken out of context and misrepresented, Breitbart ran an article titled, “Ten Reasons Sweden’s ‘Multicultural Utopia’ Is Massively Failing.” Reason no. 5—that “most serious crime is committed by migrants”—is backed up only with a quote from a police officer’s Facebook rant.

Many publications found subsequent support for Trump’s assertion in a Monday night “riot” in an immigrant neighborhood of Rinkeby, a suburb of Stockholm. From FoxNews.com:

The violence in Rinkeby began around 8 p.m., when officers arrested a suspect at an underground station on drug charges, The Local reported. A group soon gathered, hurling rocks and other objects at officers and prompting one cop to fire his gun “in a situation that demanded he use his firearm,” police spokesman Lars Bystrom said.
“But nobody has been found injured at the scene and we have checked the hospitals and there hasn’t been anyone with what could be gunshot wounds,” Bystrom added.

Breitbart featured the disturbance on the top of its home page for much of Tuesday morning, as did other sites, including the Daily Caller.

Posts about Sweden from conservative Facebook pages were shared widely:

In other news:

Over the holiday weekend, Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos came under fire after video of him seeming to endorse sex between adults and minors emerged. The Conservative Political Action Conference subsequently stripped him of his role as keynote speaker. Later, Simon & Schuster, which had given Yiannopoulous a $250,000 advance for his forthcoming book, announced that it would no longer be publishing the title. Though it largely declined to comment on these organization’s choices, the Daily Caller observed, “The group that accused Milo Yiannopoulos of defending pedophilia is funded by an anti-Trump, pro-[Evan] McMullin PAC.”

HeatStreet—which has variously described Breitbart as “a Donald Trump fan website” and compared Yiannopoulos to a member of the Sex Pistols—went a little farther than some of its conservative siblings. It called Yiannopoulos’ statements “something else,” and invited its readers to watch the video in full—implicitly challenging Yiannopoulos’ own claim that he was the victim of “selectively edited videos.”

The National Review went farther, taking the opportunity to aggressively condemn Yiannopoulos. In “Free Speech Has a Milo Problem,” David French, after referring to Yiannopoulos as “flamboyantly gay,” wrote, “His very existence and prominence feed the deception that modern political correctness is the firewall against the worst forms of bigotry,” and argued that we should instead uphold individuals such as Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding, as First Amendment heroes. Similarly, the publication’s editors chastised CPAC for inviting Yiannopoulos in the first place, writing, “It has become fashionable in conservative circles to cheer every apparently right-leaning gadfly. But ‘trolling’ is not conservatism, and there is no virtue merely in upsetting campus Democrats.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Yiannopoulous resigned from Breitbart. The site, which had been quiet on this story, published a post soon after, quoting an official statement that explained the company had accepted his resignation.

Feb. 21 2017 4:42 PM

Milo Yiannopoulos Resigns From Breitbart

Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart on Tuesday afternoon in the ongoing fallout from the surfacing of comments he had made in defense of pedophilia, or, in Yiannopoulos' words, sexual attraction to “somebody who is 13 years old who is sexually mature.”

“I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting, so today I am resigning from Breitbart,” Yiannopoulos, the site’s “tech editor,” said in a statement. “The decision is mine alone.” The news follows reports on Monday that some Breitbart staffers had threatened to leave the publication if Yiannopoulos was allowed to stay on. “The fact of the matter is that there’s been so many things that have been objectionable about Milo over the last couple of years, quite frankly. This is something far more sinister,” a senior editor told Washingtonian. “If the company isn’t willing to act, there are at least half a dozen people who are willing to walk out over it.”

Yiannopoulos, who was scheduled to give the keynote address at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, had his speaking slot pulled and an upcoming book with Simon & Schuster canceled after clips of his comments on underage sex were posted to Twitter by the blog the Reagan Battalion. In the clips, Yiannopoulos says he believes children as young as 13 may be capable of sexual consent and even the sexual predation of adults more twice their age.

“We’re talking 13–25, 13–28. These things do happen perfectly consensually,” he said in one. “Normally what happens in schools, very often, is it’s an older woman and a younger boy. And the boy is the predator in that situation.” He also joked that abuse at the hands of a priest while he was 14 had improved his ability to have oral sex.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Yiannopoulos reiterated points made in an apology posted to Facebook over the weekend, in which he said that he does not approve of sexual relationships with 13-year-olds. “I've reviewed the tapes that appeared last night in their proper full context and I don't believe they say what is being reported,” he said. “Nonetheless I do say some things on the tapes that I do not mean and which do not reflect my views.” Milo was not asked by reporters whether he still believes 13-year-olds are capable of sexual consent.

“It’s obvious,” he said while taking questions from reporters, “that this was a highly coordinated and very well-funded and well-planned attack on me, but I have to take responsibility for what I said.”

Feb. 21 2017 3:06 PM

The White House’s Various Connections to Newly Infamous Pedophilia Advocate Milo Yiannopoulos

 

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Donald Trump held an exclusive Q&A with the hate speech–riddled Reddit forum of which Yiannopoulos was the most promiment member.

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There's an argument to be made that the best way to respond to Milo Yiannopoulos, the self-consciously provocative right-wing figure who just lost his speaking slot at the country's most prominent conservative conference because he once suggested it's acceptable for adult men to have sex with 13-year-olds, is to ignore him. The various white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, and transphobic rhetoric that Yiannopoulos emits is transparently crafted to "get attention" and provoke backlash, the thinking goes—so why give him the satisfaction?

One answer to that is that unlike truly fringe figures like David Duke, Yiannopoulos does have a constituency—his Facebook page has 2 million followers—and his supporters include the president of the U.S. and some of the president's top advisers.

To wit:

With all these fans at the top levels of government, it seems like this Milo guy might just land on his feet!

Incidentally, some of the other users from whom Trump took questions during the Reddit AMA had previously used the The_Donald forum to refer to a high-profile victim of an alleged sexual assault as a "little whore," to refer to multiracial Daily Show host Trevor Noah as "filth from South Africa," and to refer to Black Lives Matter marches as "chimp outs." Again—these are the people Trump made time to take questions from during an exclusive campaign Q&A event.

We dumped about 2,000 tons of sewage in the White House on Jan. 20, and it's going to take a long time to clean it all out.

Feb. 21 2017 1:06 PM

McMaster Is an Improvement, but He’s Going to Be Cleaning Up After Trump Like Everyone Else

Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, a highly qualified and widely admired general, is certainly an improvement over the politically compromised extremist Michael Flynn. But how much influence can H.R. McMaster have on the views of a president who gets his information on world affairs from half-baked Tucker Carlson segments?

McMaster is not the first noncrazy person to join Trump’s team. The president already has a Cabinet stocked with figures espousing relatively mainstream GOP foreign-policy views—many of whom directly contradicted much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric during their confirmation hearings. But so far, the dynamic of these officials moderating Trump’s views and behavior has not played out. Instead, the so-called moderating forces are spending a good portion of their time cleaning up Trump’s messes and explaining to foreign governments that their boss didn’t mean what he very clearly did mean.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has existed in a parallel universe to his boss since the campaign, was in Brussels over the weekend, assuring European governments of America’s “steadfast and enduring” support for the European Union and contradicting Trump, who has expressed indifference to the EU and embraced euroskeptic politicians like Nigel Farage. According to Reuters, Pence’s reassurances also contradicted remarks made by Steve Bannon to a German diplomat last week, in which the chief White House strategist called the union a flawed construct and said the U.S. would be better off conducting relations with European governments on a bilateral basis.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a trip to Iraq, is also on cleanup duty Tuesday, saying “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” in response to questions about Trump’s oft-stated belief that America should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion and might still do so.

And last week, it was up to U.N. envoy Nikki Haley to explain that “we absolutely support a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that Trump was just “thinking out of the box” by suggesting that he had no particular attachment to the longtime U.S. policy position.

Now it’s McMaster’s turn to take a crack at an administration that often seems to be running two separate foreign policies in parallel, a traditionally Republican one administered by Pence and the Cabinet secretaries, and a disruptive and unpredictable one run by Bannon and Trump himself. If you’re a foreign leader or diplomat right now, trying to get a handle on just how disruptive and transformative this administration is going to be, McMaster’s appointment is likely welcome, but also making things even more confusing.

Feb. 21 2017 11:54 AM

Trump’s First Supreme Court Case Could Have Major Implications on His Travel Ban

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Hernández v. Mesa, a case with particular salience given that the Trump administration appears ready to release plans for the enforcement of the president’s executive orders clamping down on undocumented immigrants. The case concerns the 2010 shooting of unarmed Mexican teenager Sergio Hernandez just south of the U.S.-Mexico border by a border patrol agent named Jesus Mesa Jr. The case was a holdover from the Obama era, but it will be the first one argued at the high court by the Trump administration. From the Los Angeles Times:

The killing of the teenager, who was unarmed and posed no apparent threat to the officer, provoked anger on the Mexican side of the border, but U.S. officials refused to extradite Mesa to face charges in Mexico. They also decided against prosecuting him under U.S. law.
Sergio’s parents then sued Mesa, alleging the shooting was an unjustified violation of the Constitution. They cited the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable seizures and the use of excessive force as well as the 5th Amendment, which says no person shall “be deprived of life or liberty … without due process of law.”

The case was initially thrown out by a federal judge on the grounds that the Constitution could not be enforced south of the border. A court of appeals later ruled that the United States could be considered in control of the area around the border, but that existing law was too unclear to merit punishment for Mesa. The case is also thought to hold relevance to the Trump administration’s efforts to ban Muslims from selected countries from entering the United States, which hinge in part on the extent to which they violate the constitutional rights of noncitizens within American jurisdiction. From the Times:

As usual, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy appears to hold the key vote. In the past, he has said the reach of the Constitution should turn on practical concerns, including whether U.S. officials are in control. If so, he could join with the court’s liberals to say the Constitution constrains U.S. agents operating on a border, thereby clearing the family’s lawsuit to proceed. Such a decision would surely be cited by lawyers and judges in the litigation over the travel ban.

Feb. 21 2017 11:27 AM

Trump Is Still Getting Advice From the Guy Who Said Sandy Hook Was a Hoax

Alex Jones is the proprietor of InfoWars, a conspiracy website that has asserted that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened and that 9/11 was planned by the U.S. government. He is also, he told the New York Times in a piece published Sunday, in regular touch with our president, Donald Trump:

[Jones] is apparently taking on a new role as occasional information source and validator for the president of the United States, with whom, Mr. Jones says, he sometimes speaks on the phone.

We already knew that Trump praised Jones during an appearance on his radio show and that they reportedly spoke in November after the election. Now the White House appears to have confirmed, to the Times, Jones' contention that he and Trump are phone buddies:

Mr. Jones told me that he had spoken with Mr. Trump since that call [in November], though an aide to the president, communicating on the condition of anonymity, played down the frequency of their contact.

Playing down the frequency of their contact isn't exactly denying that they're in contact, is it?

[Expletive].

Update, 11:35 a.m.: I forgot to mention that Jones told the Times that Sandy Hook "may have happened," in the newspaper's words. This is a contradiction of the host's emphatic previous statements on the issue.

Feb. 20 2017 8:19 PM

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Dies Suddenly in New York

Vitaly Churkin, who was the combative Russian ambassador the United Nations for more than a decade, died suddenly after suffering cardiac arrest while he was at work in Manhattan. His death, which came a day before he would have turned 65, shocked the diplomatic community. Russia’s Foreign Ministry gave few details about the circumstances surrounding Churkin's passing, but a federal law enforcement official said there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about his death.

Churkin’s death came at a time when everyone is watching Moscow-Washington relations even more closely than normal and many were eager to see how the diplomat not known for mincing words was going to get along with his U.S. counterpart, Nikki Haley. Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin as saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was very upset by the news and “expressed sympathy to the friends and family as well as to the staff of the Russian Foreign Ministry.”

Churkin was often the most visible defender of Moscow's most controversial positions, as he backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on numerous occasions. In one particularly memorable moment, then-U.S. ambassador Samantha Power brought up Aleppo atrocities and asked him, “Are you truly incapable of shame?” He fired back that she was acting “as if she is Mother Teresa herself.” Still, after learning of his death, Power took to Twitter to say she was “devastated” by the news. “Diplomatic maestro & deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences,” she wrote. Power’s predecessor, Susan Rice, also expressed her condolences, calling Churkin “highly effective and very funny.”

Churkin’s death comes a little more than three months after another Russian died in the country’s diplomatic offices in New York. Sergei Krivov was found dead on Election Day, lying on the floor of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side. BuzzFeed looked into the strange story earlier this month and found that much of it is still an unresolved mystery.

Feb. 20 2017 4:34 PM

Trump Picks Military Strategist Known for Questioning Authority as National Security Adviser

The wait is over. President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he had selected Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to be his new national security adviser, showing how the commander in chief continues to rely on members of the military to play key roles in his national security and foreign policy teams. Trump made the announcement after interviewing several candidates to replace Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign amid claims that he kept Vice President Pence in the dark about the content of conversations with a Russian official before the president took office.

“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Trump said as he introduced McMaster. “He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.” Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who has been serving as acting national security adviser, will become the National Security Council chief of staff. “I think that combination is something very, very special,” Trump said. “What a team. This is a great team.” Trump’s first choice for the job, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.

McMaster is a widely respected military strategist although his selection surprised some because he is known as someone who is fond of questioning authority having made his name as a strong critic of the military leadership during the Vietnam War. McMaster is now frequently described as one of the leading intellectuals in the Army who is often credited with pushing the Pentagon toward a new strategy of combating terrorists and insurgents.

One person who wasn’t surprised? Foreign Policy’s Thomas Ricks, who had called him the most likely pick after Harward turned down the offer. “He has good combat experience, he was a good trainer, and he led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment well in his deployment to Iraq, most notably in pacifying Tell Afar, to the west of Mosul,” notes Ricks. The two big differences between him and Harward is that McMaster is on active duty and “his wife won’t kill him if he takes the job, as Harward’s wife might have.”

At a time when Russia’s potential influence on the election is in the news, McMaster does seem to be acutely aware of Kremlin’s rising power. Last year, he had been tasked with studying Moscow and a newly resurgent Russia that had caught the Pentagon largely off-guard. “It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

The two other candidates for the job were former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Lt. Gen Robert Caslen Jr. When he announced his pick, Trump made a point of praising Bolton, who had already been passed over for an administration job. “We had some really good meetings with him. Knows a lot. He had a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with,” the president said. “So we’ll be talking with John Bolton in a different capacity.”

Feb. 20 2017 2:02 PM

Swedish Cops Featured in Fox News Segment Say Views Were Misrepresented

The police officers who were featured in the “documentary” that apparently inspired President Donald Trump to make his widely mocked comments Friday about an incident in Sweden say the filmmaker is a “madman” who misrepresented their views. “When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump had said at a Friday rally. On Sunday night, Trump acknowledged what had already been pretty clear: He was inspired by a Fox News segment.

Sure, Trump may have access to the most extensive intelligence network in the world, but he apparently prefers to believe what he sees on Tucker Carlson’s show. And he seems to have been particularly moved by a segment in which Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz about a documentary he made on how Sweden is descending into violent chaos because it opened its doors to refugees.

Part of the support Horowitz presents for his view on Sweden’s horrors are interviews with two police officers. The problem is those officers say they never meant to espouse the message that Horowitz attributes to them. “It was supposed to be about crime in high risk areas. Areas with high crime rates. There wasn’t any focus on migration or immigration,” Anders Göranzon told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter. According to Göranzon, Horowitz “edited” their answers, which were to “completely different questions in the interview.” His conclusion? “This is bad journalism.”

Now the cops are wary of answering any questions, lest they be misrepresented. “It feels like hell. The real questions should be shown along with our answers,” Göranzon added. “The end result is that we don’t want to talk to journalists after this. We can’t trust each other.”

Horowitz stood by his film, denying he had misrepresented the interviews or its intent. "The answers were accurate," Horowitz told the Guardian. “This is part of the problem that Sweden has, and the officers are probably under a lot of pressure because of what they said. It’s difficult in that environment to stand up to it, so I feel sorry for them.”

Trump made sure to keep the issue in the spotlight on Monday when he took to Twitter again and implied the details don’t matter and the real message is the problems Sweden is facing because of its immigration policies. “The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully,” Trump wrote. “NOT!”

Carlson himself said those making fun of Trump were missing the big picture by focusing on the commander in chief’s words rather than on what his overall message was. “It seems like we may be missing the point of the story, which is there has been a massive social cost associated with the refugee policies and the immigration policies of Western Europe,” Carlson said on Fox News on Monday morning. “Fifty years of immigration policy is coming to flower in Europe. We’re not paying any attention. We’re not drawing any of the obvious lessons from it. It's not working. That's the real point here.”

A day earlier, Sweden’s embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter that it was looking “forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.” It’s a role the embassy is familiar with considering Sweden's diplomatic outposts have been tasked with countering the vast amounts of misinformation that has been spread about the country’s refugee program.

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