Tag Archives: special

Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

Mother Jones

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Jon Ossoff’s near win in the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That’s a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives a pretty good idea about what really happened:

This is a district that’s been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district and a Trump effect specific to 2016.

During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it’s not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There’s a long-term Democratic tailwind and an incumbency effect specific to 2017.

If Ossoff wins the runoff—or loses a close race—it’s unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I’m not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we’ll take another crack at it.

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Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

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This Clever Legal Strategy Could Take Down the Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald

Mother Jones

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Last Thursday, prosecutors announced that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is facing new criminal charges in the fatal October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm—one count, apparently, for each bullet he fired at McDonald. Van Dyke had previously been indicted on charges of first-degree murder and misconduct in office. Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon filed the new indictment—which included the original charges—to replace the first one.

All of which begs a few questions: Why would prosecutors charge Van Dyke separately for each bullet he fired? How common are these kinds of charges in shooting cases? And how likely is it that a jury will buy the argument that Van Dyke committed 16 separate felonies?

To get some answers, I reached out to Robert Milan, previously the No. 2 prosecutor in the state’s attorney’s office for Cook County, which includes Chicago. Milan has personally tried more than 100 shooting cases, he says, and “I’ve never seen charges shot by shot.”

Prosecutors, he says, may have filed the aggravated assault charges to preempt the defense’s inevitable argument that Van Dyke had the authority to use deadly force to protect himself and others, or to prevent McDonald—who was wielding a knife and had reportedly attempted to break into cars—from committing a violent felony.

Jurors would consider the battery charges in addition to (not in place of) first-degree murder. So prosecutors could ask the judge to instruct the jury to consider Van Dyke’s self-defense claim only for the bullets he fired before McDonald fell to the ground, on the grounds that the claim no longer applied after McDonald was down.

“If Van Dyke gets the total defense instruction for the entire act, I’m sure prosecutors are concerned that it covers all 16 shots,” Milan said. But “if the judge buys it, and Van Dyke doesn’t get that instruction, then that defense goes flying out the window for those shots. I really think that’s what they’re doing here.”

Which means, even if jurors find Van Dyke not guilty of murder and not guilty of the battery charges attached to the first few bullets, they could still potentially convict him on battery charges for the later bullets. The prosecutor’s strategy seems tailored to counter the special consideration a police office usually receives in shooting cases: “He’s covering his bases. Doing what a good prosecutor would do.”

Van Dyke’s attorneys have tried to get the charges in the original indictment thrown out on the grounds that former Chicago prosecutor Anita Alvarez had tainted the grand jury process with “irregularities.” Alvarez—who lost a re-election bid last year in part because of voter dissatisfaction with her handling of the case—was under pressure to secure an indictment against Van Dyke. She filed the charges in November 2015, just hours before the city—under court order—released police footage of the shooting.

Van Dyke’s next court hearing is scheduled for April 20. His attorneys say they intend to file a motion to have the new charges dismissed. Milan says they may argue that Van Dyke should be charged with only one count of battery, since the 16 bullets were part of a single incident—but the judge is unlikely to oblige. “Bottom line is you have this videotape showing what took place. The burden is not high to get somebody indicted and to lay it out there,” Milan says. “I don’t see this case getting dismissed prior to trial.”

If Van Dyke were convicted of multiple battery counts, the sentences—ranging anywhere from 6 to 30 years in Illinois state prison—could be served concurrently. Milan won’t speculate on how a jury might rule, but he agrees that if the prosecutor’s strategy succeeds, it could easily spread to police shooting cases in other places.

Caution: This video of the shooting, while relevant, is graphic and disturbing.

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This Clever Legal Strategy Could Take Down the Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald

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Yemen Shuts Down Further Ground Raids

Mother Jones

Our adventure in Yemen last week failed to kill its target; caused the death of numerous Yemeni civilians; resulted in one dead American sailor; and ended with the loss of a $70 million helicopter. Now comes another blow:

Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

….The raid stirred immediate outrage among Yemeni government officials, some of whom accused the Trump administration of not fully consulting with them before the mission. Within 24 hours of the assault on a cluster of houses in a tiny village in mountainous central Yemen, the country’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the raid in a post on his official Twitter account as “extrajudicial killings.”

This is why decisions about risky operations normally come only after “the kind of rigorous review in the Situation Room that became fairly routine under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama”—not over dinner, as this one was:

Mr. Trump will soon have to make a decision about the more general request by the Pentagon to allow more of such operations in Yemen without detailed, and often time-consuming, White House review. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will allow that, or how the series of mishaps that marked his first approval of such an operation may have altered his thinking about the human and political risks of similar operations.

This presents Trump with a dilemma. It sure looks like that detailed White House review is a good idea. On the other hand, we all know that he has nowhere near the patience to sit through regular, hours-long meetings in the Situation Room where he can’t have CNN on in the background. He’s learning that it’s not all fun and games being president, but it’s not clear how he’ll react to that.

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Yemen Shuts Down Further Ground Raids

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Gen. Michael Flynn’s Slow Descent Into Madness

Mother Jones

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Dana Priest tells us today about Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn:

A lot of reporters and other civilians found Mike, as everyone called him, refreshing. A plucky Irish Catholic kid from Rhode Island, he wasn’t impressed by rank. He told his junior officers to challenge him in briefings. “You’d hear them say, ‘Boss, that’s nuts,’ ” one former colleague said.

….The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones….Stanley McChrystal, who was appointed to run JSOC in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief….He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

Sounds like a good guy who just needs a little direction. So, um, what happened?

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency….“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true….Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues.

….Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go….Flynn began saying that he had been fired because President Obama disagreed with his views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of ISIS. I haven’t found anyone yet who heard him say this while he was still in the military….As Flynn’s public comments became more and more shrill, McChrystal, Mullen, and others called Flynn to urge him to “tone it down,” a person familiar with each attempt told me. But Flynn had found a new boss, Trump, who enlisted him in the fight against the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Well, I guess it will all work out. Donald Trump will provide a firm hand at the—wait. What’s this?

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month….A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won.

….Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority. But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues.

So Trump thinks that his work schedule will lighten up after he actually becomes president? And then he’ll have time to get up to speed on all the stuff he doesn’t know? And rein in Flynn at the same time?

We are so screwed.

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Gen. Michael Flynn’s Slow Descent Into Madness

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Sweden plans to give tax breaks for fixing stuff instead of throwing it away.

Despite the political and market forces arrayed against it, the coal industry is still clinging to life, pushing forward massive new mines, export terminals, railway lines, and power plants.

In a special report this week, Grist examines the struggling industry’s long game, including one company’s efforts to build a $700 million project on the Chuitna River in south-central Alaska. Here are seven other places where the American coal industry is trying to resuscitate itself at the expense of, well, the rest of us:

  1. Millennium Bulk Coal Terminal Longview, Washington

Even after major backer Arch Coal declared bankruptcy and dropped its stake in 2016, the $640 million export terminal won’t die.

  1. Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal Oakland, California

The city council and Gov. Jerry Brown oppose the $1.2 billion proposal, but developers are threatening legal action.

  1. Wishbone Hill Coal Mine Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska

The project had cleared most of its regulatory hurdles when members of the the nearby Chickaloon tribe filed a lawsuit.

  1. Coal Hollow Mine Kane County, Utah

A company with a history of cleanup violations wants an expansion that would double the mine’s annual output.

  1. Kayenta Mine Navajo County, Arizona

Located on reservation lands on Arizona’s Black Mesa, the Peabody-owned mine opened in 1973 but faces new opposition.

  1. Dos Republicas Mine Eagle Pass, Texas

Opened for business in November 2015, the mine on the U.S.-Mexico border threatens archaeological sites and burial grounds.

  1. Kemper County Energy Facility Kemper County, Mississippi

Mississippi’s $6.7 billion “clean coal” plant has been criticized as excessively expensive and too carbon-heavy, but officials say it could be operational by October.

Read our special report: Coal’s Last Gamble.

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Sweden plans to give tax breaks for fixing stuff instead of throwing it away.

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