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July 25 2015 7:55 AM

Week in Photos

This post contains nudity.

The Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station crew of Kjell Lindgren of the U.S., Oleg Kononenko of Russia, and Kimiya Yui of Japan blasts off from the launch pad  in Kazakhstan on July 23, 2015.

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July 24 2015 6:24 PM

Feds Monitored Breast Cancer Walk to Make Sure Black Lives Matter Riot Didn't Break Out

The national-security watchdogs at The Intercept have FOIA'd a bunch of Department of Homeland Security documents related to Black Lives Matter activists, and while the resulting article is marred by Greenwaldian hysteria as manifested in radical-bearded-professor statements like "terrorism isn’t a real threat," it does indicate that the Department of Homeland Security may have way too much time on its hands:

An April 29th email from the DHS National Operations Center also mentions planned surveillance of three seemingly innocuous events, two of which were associated with historically black neighborhoods. According to the email, the DHS-funded DC Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency decided to conduct “a limited stand-up… to monitor a larger than expected Funk Parade and two other mass gathering events” in case “any Baltimore-related civil unrest occurs.” It appears that the only Funk Parade in DC occurs in the historically black neighborhood of U Street. The other two events, according to another report, produced by the DHS National Capital Region‘s Information Collection and Coordination Center, were a community parade in Congress Heights, a predominantly black neighborhood, and the Avon 39-Walk to End Breast Cancer.

Basically it looks like DHS has been keeping track of some Black Lives Matter protests under the reasoning that doing would help provide "situational awareness" and "a common operating picture" for law enforcement in the event of an "act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster." (Those are DHS's own words.) Which would make sense—if Black Lives Matter was a terror group rather than a nonviolent protest movement.

July 24 2015 4:08 PM

Louisiana Shooter Was Known for Extremist and Anti-Feminist Rants

Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater shooter John Russell "Rusty" Houser's motivations for opening fire at a screening of the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck were initially not clear, but a report by the Washington Post's David Weigel speaks to the question:

John Russell Houser, the man police say opened fire inside a Lafayette, La., movie theater on Thursday night, had boasted in an online profile that he made dozens of appearances on television talk shows.
The hosts of those shows said Friday that Houser over-stated his role, but they do remember him as an  argument-starting guest who was angry about high taxes and the growing power of women.

One host Weigel spoke to hosted a local political TV talk show in Georgia, where Houser lived before moving to Alabama and then to Louisiana, and the other hosted a similar program on the radio. "The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything," said one.

Schumer's work often addresses women's political issues, and she's often described in the press as a "feminist comedian." Both of the individuals Houser shot and killed were women.

Here's a shot from the LinkedIn page Weigel refers to.

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Screen shot/LinkedIn

A Lafayette-area ABC affiliate documented a number of other extremist statements that Houser appears to have made online—predicting that the United States government would soon "fall," attesting hatred for "liberals," complaining that other Americans were "brainwashed," and praising the Westboro Baptist Church.

Houser was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in 2008; a proctive order was reportedly also taken out against him around that time by the woman who is now his ex-wife, her daughter with Houser, the daughter's fiancé, and the fiancé's parents.  

Houser's victims join more than 60 others who have been killed in politically motivated attacks by white extremists in the past two decades.

July 24 2015 3:55 PM

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 1.4 Million Cars After Hackers Commandeer Moving Jeep

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. is recalling 1.4 million vehicles for software upgrades after a report described two hackers' successful attempt to take control of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee while it was driving on a public road. From Reuters:

The announcement by FCA US LLC, formerly Chrysler Group LLC, comes after cybersecurity researchers used the Internet to turn off a car's engine as it drove, escalating concerns about the safety of Internet-connected vehicles.
The researchers used Fiat Chrysler's telematics system to break into a car being driven on the highway and issue commands to the engine, steering and brakes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and members of Congress have expressed concern about the security of Internet-connected vehicle control systems.

The remote Jeep-jacking was executed by Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek. Andy Greenberg, who later described the experience in Wired, was driving it on a freeway in the St. Louis area and he was in on the stunt. While some of the commands Miller and Valasek gave the Jeep were almost playful—blasting a rap station on the radio and cranking up the air conditioning—they were also able to bring it to a stop by shutting down its transmission. In a separate exercise in a parking lot, they were able to disable the brakes.

In its recall notice posted Friday, Fiat Chrysler said the company had already instituted "network-level security measures to prevent the type of remote manipulation demonstrated in a recent media report" and added that tapping into someone's vehicle, "if unauthorized, constitutes criminal action."

Fiat says that affected customers "will receive a USB device that they may use to upgrade vehicle software, which provides additional security features independent of the network-level measures." The following models, if equipped with 8.4-inch touchscreens, could be affected by the recall:

  • 2013-2015 Dodge Viper specialty vehicles
  • 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups
  • 2013-2015 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 Chassis Cabs
  • 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs
  • 2014-2015 Dodge Durango SUVs
  • 2015 Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans
  • 2015 Dodge Challenger sports coupes

Fiat Chrysler has created a lookup tool for owners to check whether their vehicles are covered by the recall, which can be found here.

As noted by Greenberg in Wired, Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal proposed legislation this week that would set minimum standards of wireless security for automobiles. The Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act would require manufacturers to disclose the measures taken to shield cars from hacking and allow consumers to opt out of data collection enabled by on-board technology.

July 24 2015 3:55 PM

Watch Out, Trump: Ted Cruz Unleashes Blistering Attack on the Senate Floor

Presidential contender Ted Cruz on Friday unleashed a blistering broadside on his own party leader, accusing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of “flat-out” lying and saying that the Senate under his control has been no better than it was under his Democratic predecessor, Harry Reid. More surprising than the force of Cruz’s fiery remarks was where they occurred: the Senate floor, a place so dominated by decorum and tradition that senators are still discouraged from addressing one another by name.

“We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false,” Cruz said during a nearly 20-minute speech in which he bashed the GOP-controlled Senate for everything from funding Obamacare to confirming Loretta Lynch as attorney general this year.

The public attack was ostensibly prompted by McConnell’s decision to line up a vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, a relatively little-known federal agency that Cruz and like-minded conservatives have branded as government-subsidized corporate cronyism. But it also conveniently lines up squarely with Cruz’s larger presidential campaign pitch about promising to take on what he’s dubbed the “Washington cartel.” (Though it does call into question the Texan’s previous claim that he refuses to engage in “Republican-on-Republican violence.”)

Cruz’s decision to go ballistic on the Senate floor comes as he—and everyone else not named Donald Trump—has struggled to attract attention on the crowded campaign trail, and as many of his rivals for the GOP nomination have turned increasingly desperate to do so. Earlier this week, for example, Lindsey Graham tried to score some points by filming a video of himself destroying his Trump-doxxed flip phone, while Rand Paul took a chainsaw to the U.S. tax code. Cruz’s look-at-me moment wasn’t as blatant of a PR stunt—but it’s hard to believe that the Texan’s current eighth-place standing in the national polls didn’t have something to do with it.

According to the Senate historian Betty Koed, Cruz did not break any specific rules by calling McConnell a liar on the floor. Still, she told the Associated Press, “in more recent times there’s been very little of this type of behavior.”

July 24 2015 1:53 PM

Tom Steyer Just Gave Hillary Millions of Reasons to Get Specific on Climate

Hillary Clinton has promised to make global warming a key pillar of her 2016 campaign but, much to the frustration of the climate crowd, she hasn’t gone into any detail about how she’d actually address the problem as president. On Friday the biggest individual spender (non–dark money category) in the midterm elections suggested that’s going to have to change if the Democratic front-runner wants the backing of his well-funded super PAC.

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager-turned-environmental activist, announced that his NextGen Climate Action group will only back candidates in 2016 who push energy policies aimed at having half of the nation’s electricity generated from renewable or zero-carbon sources by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. “That’s the hurdle candidates have to get over to win our support,” the billionaire told the New York Times. The creation of such a clear, public litmus test is surprising—particularly since earlier this year Steyer held a private fundraiser for Clinton in his San Francisco home.

So far this year, NextGen has largely focused its efforts on the Republican field by trying to put the candidates on record about not believing that man is a significant contributor to global warming. Friday’s announcement, though, is aimed directly at the Democratic side of the field—and Clinton specifically. Hillary’s top two rivals are already in Steyer’s good graces: Martin O’Malley laid out his plans last month for a shift to 100 percent renewable electricity by the middle of this century, while Bernie Sanders often talks forcefully on the stump about what needs to be done to curb climate change. (Whether Sanders will be willing to release a specific plan tailored to NextGen’s request, though, remains in question given the Vermont senator’s general disdain for billionaire donors.)

Clinton, though, has taken a more moderate, let’s-not-move-too-fast position that has angered many in the climate community, which has long been upset over her unwillingness to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline. Clinton’s strongest climate comments to date were a promise to fight to preserve the regulations being implemented by President Obama’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at “all costs.” That was welcome news to climate activists but hardly something for them to get excited about. They’ve long pushed for Obama to go bigger on climate, and they want Clinton to make promises that go beyond more of the same.

As I’ve noted before, Clinton doesn’t have to pay much heed to your run-of-the-mill climate activist in the primary given that she won’t have to worry about them come the general. Their legitimate fears about a climate science–denying Republican president will be a much greater motivating force on Election Day than their doubts about Clinton ever could be. But Steyer’s vow could force Clinton’s hand. He donated $67 million of his own cash to his NextGen Climate Action super PAC in 2014 (without much to show for it). While he hasn’t said how much he’s willing to spend this cycle, a NextGen spokeswoman told the Times that he intends to “double down.” If he does, he’ll give Clinton millions of more reasons to finally get specific on an issue she’s so far been treating as a political advantage as opposed to a real-world problem.

Elsewhere in Slate:

July 24 2015 1:10 PM

Guns Were Used in At Least 15 United States Murder-Suicides Last Week Besides Louisiana

David Waldman of the Daily Kos site notes that Thursday’s murder-suicide shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana wasn’t the only incident of its kind in recent days.

In fact, in the seven days between last Friday, July 17, and Thursday, July 23, there were at least 15 other reports of murder-suicides committed with guns in the United States:

The Washington incident that Waldman referenced is not included above—but only because the 33-year-old man who is believed to have shot and killed a 20-year-old woman on Thursday survived his suicide attempt. In total, then, there were at least 38 Americans who died in the last week in gun-involved murder-suicides or attempted murder-suicides.

*Update, 4:40 p.m.: Daily Kos's Waldman pointed out on Twitter that our initial post missed the killing in Mauldin, South Carolina. It's been added to the list and the statistics elsewhere in the post have been updated.

July 24 2015 1:08 PM

Update: Requested DOJ Probe of Clinton's Email is "Not a Criminal Referral"

Update: Contrary to an earlier report in the New York Times, it now appears as though the request the Department of Justice received from a federal inspector general to launch an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of personal email while secretary of state is not a criminal matter. "The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information," a Justice Department official told Politico on Friday. "It is not a criminal referral."

The Associated Press' DOJ sources are now telling a similar story. "The official said the referral by the investigators did not relate to possible criminal wrongdoing, despite saying earlier Friday that it did," the wire reports. "Another U.S. official said it was unclear whether classified information was mishandled and that the referral didn't necessarily suggest any wrongdoing by Clinton."

Original post, July 23, 11:56 p.m.: The Justice Department has been asked to open a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as Secretary of State and whether it criminally compromised classified information. The request was submitted by two inspectors general and is being reported by the New York Times.

Internal memos, reviewed by the Times, suggest that Clinton’s private account could contain hundreds of classified emails, although whether or not they were classified when the former Secretary of State received them is not clear. Clinton has maintained no classified material was on her personal email and that she was aware of the classification requirements. The State Department has, however, retroactively classified some of the emails during the process of handing them over to become part of the federal record.

“In the 3,000 pages that were released, for example, portions of two dozen emails were redacted because they were upgraded to ‘classified status,” according to the Times. “In [a memo] the inspectors general said that at least one email made public by the State Department contained classified information.”

Officials at the Justice Department say no decision has been made on whether to launch a criminal investigation.

July 24 2015 1:04 PM

Did Five Major Airlines Price-Gouge Stranded Travelers After the Amtrak Train Crash?

The derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia two months ago caused immense tragedy and chaos: Eight passengers were killed, hundreds more were injured, and major service disruptions were incurred on the Northeast Corridor, a popular rail line that runs from Washington, D.C. to cities including New York and Boston. The disruptions left hordes of travelers stranded at train stations, unable to board their scheduled rides. Now the U.S. government is reportedly investigating allegations of price gouging at five major airlines that may have capitalized on the Amtrak crash by raising plane ticket prices for desperate travelers.

At a Friday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the Transportation Department is seeking information from five industry giants—Delta, American, United, JetBlue, and Southwest—about whether they temporarily “raised fees beyond what you’d normally expect.” Calling “the idea that any business would seek to take advantage of stranded rail passengers in the wake of such a tragic event” unacceptable, Foxx said that the department is probing whether or not the airlines’ price hikes violated federal regulations that prohibit airlines from engaging in deceptive, unfair practices.

Foxx's department sent letters to the five airlines alerting them that a practice qualifies as unfair if it causes "substantial injury" to customers, "is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumer or competition," and cannot be reasonably avoided by customers, the AP reports

Service on the Northeast Corridor was interrupted for almost a week after the Amtrak train derailed. Investigations are underway for the pricing of flights to certain East Coast destinations from several airports in D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Rhode Island, and Connecticut in the wake of the incident. The AP reports that the investigation was spurred in part by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy's complaint to the Obama administration that a flight from La Guardia Airport to D.C. was priced as high as $2,309 in the aftermath of the crash.

July 24 2015 10:58 AM

WWE Breaks Off Ties With Hulk Hogan After Racist Rant About Daughter and Black Men

World Wrestling Entertainment has ended its more-than-three-decade–long relationship with Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, as the National Enquirer and Radar Online released the purported transcript of a secretly recorded racist rant Hogan is said to have made to a former sexual partner.

In the tape transcript, which Radar and the Enquirer say they confirmed with “five independent sources,” Hogan allegedly tells Heather Clem—the wife of his former friend Bubba “The Love Sponge” and a woman with whom he was secretly recorded having sex in 2008—that he doesn’t want his daughter Brooke sleeping with the son of a “black billionaire guy” who had offered to help fund her music career.*

“I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, fucking niggers,” Hogan said, according to the two publications’ sources. “But then when it comes to nice people and shit, and whatever.”

The transcript got worse from there.

“I mean, I’d rather if she was going to fuck some nigger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall nigger worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!” Hogan reportedly said. “I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking nigger.”

Wind of the imminent publication of the Hogan transcript got out early Friday morning when WWE scrubbed all mentions of Hogan, likely the most famous performer in professional wrestling history and an on-again-off-again member of the organization since 1979, from its website.

"WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan),” the company said in a statement. “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide."

The tapes were reportedly revealed as part of Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which the former wrestler is suing for publishing his sex tape with Clem. The new audio recordings were “filed in a Florida court, under seal, in a bid to prevent them from being publicly released,” according to the report.

Hulk Hogan sent out a cryptic tweet before the bombshell report dropped and Gawker Media founder and CEO Nick Denton, who has said he is at risk of losing his company because of the lawsuit, was one of the thousands of people who retweeted or favorited the message.

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Update, 11:45 a.m.: Hogan has acknowledged the veracity of the tapes and apologized for them in a statement to People Magazine.

"Eight years ago I used offensive language during a conversation. It was unacceptable for me to have used that offensive language; there is no excuse for it; and I apologize for having done it," Hogan said.

"This is not who I am. I believe very strongly that every person in the world is important and should not be treated differently based on race, gender, orientation, religious beliefs or otherwise," Hogan continued. "I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs."

While WWE’s statement made it sound like Hogan was fired, his lawyer David Houston told People that "He decided to resign from WWE because he didn't want to put them or his family through this.”

Correction, 11:45 a.m.: This post originally misstated that Hogan was secretly recorded having sex in 2012. The recording took place in 2008 and was publicized in 2012.

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