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Oct. 8 2015 11:12 PM

North Charleston Agrees to $6.5 Million Settlement With Family of Walter Scott

The city of North Charleston, South Carolina announced Thursday it had reached a settlement with the family of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man who was shot in the back by a police officer in April. The city will pay the Scott family $6.5 million rather than face a civil suit for Scott’s death at the hands of officer Michael Slager, who has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

“It’s historic,” Chris Stewart, a Scott family attorney, told the Washington Post. “It sets a good precedent for a city not tolerating this sort of behavior from police officers.” The 50-year-old Scott was a father of four and was fleeing from a traffic stop when he was pursued and shot by Slager. A bystander videotaped the incident.


“The settlement comes after the City of New York agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner, whose death after allegedly being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer was captured on bystander video, and the City of Baltimore agreed to pay $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray, whose death in the back of a police transport van prompted murder charges for six officers,” according to the Post.

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Oct. 8 2015 10:17 PM

Ben Carson Tells CNN the Holocaust Would Have Gone Differently If the Jews Had Guns

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson took to the airwaves again on Thursday to discuss his views on guns. The former neurosurgeon is a believer in the therapeutic powers of heavy artillery in America’s classrooms, for instance. And Carson’s views on gun control, laid out in his book A More Perfect Union, bubbled to the surface again on Thursday during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, where he suggested that the outcome of the Holocaust would have been different if Jews had guns.

Blitzer read aloud a passage of Carson’s book:

German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior ... Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.

The CNN anchor then went on to ask Carson to comment on his claim:

Blitzer: So, just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time would six million Jews have been slaughtered?
Carson: I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.
Blitzer: Because they had a powerful military machine, as you know, the Nazis.
Carson: I understand that. I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.

“Ben Carson has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate," said Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. "The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state."

Oct. 8 2015 8:50 PM

WHO Announces the First Ebola-Free Week in West Africa Since March 2014

After a year of tragic milestones of historic proportions due to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, this week came a landmark announcement of a different sort: Last week was the first week since March 2014 to record zero Ebola cases in the three countries at the epicenter of the outbreak. The heartening news came via the United Nations, which reported that the WHO had discovered no new cases over the last week in Guinea or Sierra Leone. Liberia was determined to be free of Ebola last month, after 42 days without a new case.

The three countries accounted for almost all of the estimated some 11,000 deaths in the region due to the virus. “New cases have fallen sharply in 2015, but the WHO has warned that the disease could break out again,” the BBC reports. “More than 500 people believed to have had dangerous contact with an Ebola patient remain under follow-up in Guinea, the WHO said in a report. It also said several ‘high-risk’ people linked to recent patients in Guinea and Sierra Leone had been lost track of.” The WHO urged all parties to remain diligent and that we’re not totally out of the woods yet. In Nigeria, which escaped the brunt of the virus, and was declared Ebola-free last year, quarantined 10 people on Thursday for coming into contact with a patient with Ebola-like symptoms.

Oct. 8 2015 6:09 PM

John Boehner Reportedly Begging Paul Ryan to Run for Speaker. Should He?

Rep. Paul Ryan knew that members would be looking in his direction when Rep. Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker. Like most people, he has absolutely no interest in taking that awful job and prefers to fiddle around with tax and budget policy. (Well, more than just fiddle around.) He doesn’t want to be the guy up until 4 a.m. every funding deadline trying, in vain, to talk sense into members like Louie Gohmert; he doesn’t want to fly around the country chasing money. So Ryan rushed out a statement ruling himself out.

But Speaker John Boehner wants to get out of Washington badly and isn’t going to let some nimbly-pimbly statement get in his way. He spent much of the afternoon following McCarthy's announcement begging Ryan to reconsider. “On Thursday, Boehner personally asked Ryan to run for speaker over two long phone conversations, according to two sources familiar with the exchanges,” the Washington Post reports. “Boehner has told Ryan that he is the only person who can unite the House GOP at a time of turmoil.”


Ryan supposedly understands the “gravity” of the situation and how he may be the only candidate who can muster 218 Republican votes. He has cleared his schedule for the next couple of days. One imagines Ryan, in solitude, sitting by the fire, thinking very statesmanlike thoughts. Such as: Ugh, do I really have to do this dumb job?

So should he?

What Ryan certainly would want to avoid is another ambush from the few dozen conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, which effectively vetoed McCarthy’s bid. Sure, he’s supposedly respected by all now. But Tea Partiers are fickle. One day you’re the golden child; the next day you support some compromise bill that they don’t like, and suddenly you’re a left-liberal in cahoots with Obama’s “European-style socialist” agenda.

If Ryan is truly as strong as Boehner and others say he is, he should use that as leverage before giving an answer. House conservatives tried to bully McCarthy into accepting a wish list of unrealistic demands, and when he didn’t agree, he had to step aside. Ryan could—and if he’s shrewd, should—turn the tables. He could make the Freedom Caucus pledge (or better yet, sign a contract in blood) not to ever threaten a coup against him. He could demand that they vote with the leadership on critical budget, appropriations, and debt ceiling bills. They would be barred from going to Tortilla Coast to plot with Sen. Ted Cruz.

If conservatives don’t agree to his terms, then Ryan shouldn’t bother. But if they really want him, and agree, he would be doing an enormous favor for his party. And though it is America’s worst job, Speaker of the House Who Saved the Broken Republican Party wouldn’t be such a bad chapter to have in one’s legacy.

Oct. 8 2015 6:04 PM

Charlotte Police Officer Who Killed An Unarmed Black Man Resigns After Mistrial, Will Receive $113,000 in Back Pay

The Charlotte, North Carolina police officer who stood trial this summer for shooting and killing an unarmed 24-year-old black man in September 2013 has resigned as part of a settlement with the police department, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is white, shot former college football player Jonathan Ferrell ten times during a nighttime confrontation. Ferrell had been in a car wreck in the suburban neighborhood of Bradfield Farms, and encountered Kerrick and two other officers after a frightened homeowner who believed Ferrell to be a burglar called 911.


In a deviation from the script so many Americans have become accustomed to since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrested Kerrick shortly after the shooting, having determined, based on dash-cam footage, that he had used excessive force. He was charged with voluntary manslaughter. The North Carolina Attorney General’s office at first failed to win an indictment on the charge from a grand jury, but after presenting the case a second time, convinced a second grand jury to deliver the indictment.  

Kerrick’s trial ended Aug. 21, with the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial, and the AG announced that his office would not attempt to try Kerrick a second time. (You can read about Kerrick’s trial, its aftermath, and the extent to which it did and didn't leave the people of Charlotte with a sense that justice had been served, in a Slate feature on the case published earlier this week.)

According to the Observer, Kerrick’s last day as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was October 2nd; prior to that time, a representative for the department told me at the end of September, he had been on unpaid administrative leave.

The terms of the settlement between Kerrick and his now-former employer provides him with $113,000 in back-pay. An additional $16,000 will go toward social security and Kerrick’s retirement, according to the Observer, and about $50,000 more will go the attorney who represented Kerrick in the civil suit that Ferrell’s family filed in the wake of his death. The settlement will cost the city of Charlotte a total of $179,989.59.

Jonathan Ferrell’s mother was quoted in the Observer as saying, ““I know he doesn’t deserve it, but I can’t do anything about it. Let them go ahead and pay him.”

One of the lawyers who represented Kerrick in the criminal trial told the paper in a statement that his client’s actions on the night of September 14, 2013 had been justified under the law. “Wes Kerrick and his family look forward to new endeavors and are eager to place this tragic chapter of their lives behind them.”

Oct. 8 2015 5:47 PM

Oklahoma Accidentally Executed Someone in January With the Wrong Drug

The state of Oklahoma killed a man named Charles Warner on Jan. 15 with the wrong drug, the Oklahoman reported today. Warner, who was convicted for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl, died after a seemingly uneventful 18-minute procedure that apparently involved the use of potassium acetate rather than the potassium chloride which is called for in the state's execution protocol. The acetate/chloride distinction became public news on Sept. 30 when governor Mary Fallin cited the state's failure to obtain potassium chloride in calling for an unexpected stay of execution for Richard Glossip. (Glossip is a convicted murderer who many observers believe may be innocent and who actually lost a Supreme Court case relating to a different drug in Oklahoma's so-called lethal-injection cocktail.)

Charles Warner's execution was the first in Oklahoma since the controversial botched killing of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014, during which Lockett (in the AP's words) "writhed, clenched his teeth and appeared to struggle" over the course of 40 minutes before dying of a heart attack. The Oklahoman's story today doesn't mention Lockett, but does quote state attorney general Scott Pruitt as saying he is investigating "not only actions on Sept. 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride."

Oct. 8 2015 4:40 PM

The Thursday Slatest: Chaos in the GOP

California Republican Kevin McCarthy, the presumed favorite to take over for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, suddenly dropped out of the race for that position on Thursday in a major Capitol Hill shockeroo. In other news:


Have a good day out there!

Oct. 8 2015 3:33 PM

D.C. “Not Part of My DNA,” Says Guy Whose Brother Had Parents’ Anniversary Party in White House

Jeb Bush is doing badly in the 2016 GOP presidential primary polls and is trying to give his campaign a boost, Slate's Josh Voorhees wrote yesterday from Iowa, by relaunching himself as an outsider who can "disrupt" Washington, D.C. Bush continued on this theme today:

The first part of that statement is true, as Jeb doesn't seem to ever have held a job that involved living in Washington. The second part of the statement is one of the most disingenuous statements in American politics' distinguished history of disingenuous statements. Washington is in Jeb Bush's DNA in an almost literal sense, in that he was born three months after his grandfather Prescott became a senator. Members of his immediate family have been president or vice president for 20 of the past 35 years.


Here's a picture of Jeb at an anniversary party that his brother threw for his parents in the White House.

Jeb Bush White House

Photo by Eric Draper/White House via Getty Images

In other words, that's a picture of members of the Bush DNA tree including Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, George H.W. Bush, Margaret Bush, Walker Bush, Marvin Bush, Jenna Bush, the younger Barbara Bush, Pierce M. Bush, Maria Bush, Neil Bush, Ashley Bush, John Ellis Bush Jr., Mandi Bush, George P. Bush, and Columba Bush comfortably taking a Christmas-card style photo in the very metaphorical center of Washington, D.C. Jeb Bush is not an outsider.

Oct. 8 2015 3:24 PM

Russian Missiles Aimed at Syria Land in Iran Instead 

At least four Russian cruise missiles fired from a ship in the Caspian Sea missed their targets in Syria and instead landed in Iran, U.S. officials have told CNN. It’s not yet clear where they hit or if there were any casualties and neither Russian nor Iranian authorities have confirmed the incident.

Russia opened up a new front in its offensive in Syria on Wednesday by launching missiles from ships in the Caspian at targets in Syria more than 900 miles away, crossing Iranian and Iraqi airspace.


The “Kaliber” cruise missiles used in the strikes are a new design that has never been used in combat before. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that the 26 missiles fired from 11 ships had all hit their ISIS targets, destroying them with no civilian casualties. It’s not clear if these were the same missiles that U.S. officials were talking about Thursday.

Reaction from the Iranian government might be fairly muted. Iran had reportedly lobbied for Russia to launch strikes in Syria on behalf of their mutual ally Bashar al-Assad, an effort that included a visit to Moscow from Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in August. Iran has agreed to share intelligence with Russia, along with Syria and—to the immense annoyance of U.S. leaders—Iraq. Iran’s not really in much of a position to criticize Russia, also a major source of its arms.

Given how crowded the skies over Syria are getting, the risk of allies accidentally striking each other is certainly high, but this was definitely not the scenario most Syria watchers were expecting.  

Oct. 8 2015 2:40 PM

Are the U.S. and Russia Fighting Against Each Other in Syria?

The skies over Syria are getting very crowded. The Pentagon says that some time in the past few days, two U.S. aircraft were diverted in order to maintain safe flying distance with Russian jets. U.S. pilots are under orders to maintain a 20 nautical mile distance from any Russian plane, a limit that has been tested several times already since Russia started flying missions over the country in the past few weeks. After last month’s news that Russia would be sending troops to Syria in an effort to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s flailing regime, it has become clearer that America’s goals in Syria and Russia’s diverge a great deal more than the two sides are willing to admit.

The U.S. and Russia had held talks last months on “deconflicting” their forces in Syria, which essentially meant trying to avoid the unlikely but potentially disastrous scenario where the two sides end up fighting each other. Defense Secretary Ash Carter insists there’s no cooperation between the two, only “basic technical discussions on safety procedures for our pilots over Syria.” For now, the two countries are waging “rival, uncoordinated air campaigns” over Syria, as Reuters reports.


One would hope there are enough safeguards in place to avoid a dogfight between U.S. and Russian fighters, but Russia’s involvement is undoubtedly stymieing U.S. strategy in the conflict, such as it is. Russia is also directly attacking rebel forces supported by the U.S. So are the U.S. and Russia fighting against each other in Syria or conducting parallel operations?

A favorite line of critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is that he plays checkers while Putin plays chess. I think this gives Putin too much credit as a grand strategist: He’s more of a master improviser, adept at turning chaotic situations to his advantage but not always thinking more than a step or two ahead. But the metaphor is accurate in that the two sides are playing very different games.

Russia’s intentions in getting involved in the risky conflict may have flummoxed Washington, but it’s at least clear what victory looks like for Putin: a pro-Russian government still in power in Damascus.

Russia’s makes little distinction between ISIS and the other rebel groups fighting Assad. "If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?" is how Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it last week. Russia, which has been alarmed by what it sees as U.S. backed coups against pro-Russian governments in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere, might even view U.S.-backed rebels as more of a threat than ISIS.

For the U.S., the end goal is a little less clear. It wants to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, as the president put it. Publicly, the Obama administration maintains that it supports anti-Assad rebels and wants the Syrian leader to step down, but it clearly doesn’t trust the rebels on the ground enough to give them the weaponry or air cover they would need to actually win. U.S. efforts to train its own anti-ISIS rebel force, meanwhile, have been a nonstarter.

For now, the U.S. plan seems to be to focus on fighting ISIS in Iraq and supporting a Kurdish offensive against it in the chaotic east of Syria, while hoping that the situation in the west—where rebels are fighting government forces—will just work itself out. This is extremely bad news for the rebel forces in the northwest and south of the country, who have been holding out against both the government and ISIS for years and now have to contend with Russia as well.

But as long as ISIS is still a threat, the U.S. and Russia can keep a wide berth and focus their efforts on different parts of the country. The official lines will be that they are not fighting with or against each other, just fighting parallel wars at the same time in the same country. If either of the two campaigns actually do start to make headway against ISIS, then the remnants of the internationally backed rebel forces could turn their full attention to Assad’s Russian-backed regime. At that point, the official line becomes a lot harder to maintain.