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Greenland’s moment in the sun goes beyond Trump’s real estate interests

Greenland is sooo hot right now. And we’re not just talking literally (though, yeah, that’s also true). In the last week, the gigantic Arctic island has been the focus of several news stories. Here’s a quick round-up of why Greenland is blowing up your Twitter feed:

#1: President Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland

Let’s start with the most bizarre story. According to a story from the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, President Donald Trump repeatedly asked his top aides “with varying degrees of seriousness” how he could buy Greenland. Like, literally buy it.

“It has to be an April Fool’s joke,” the island’s former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen tweeted. “Totally out of season.”

FYI Greenland is currently a self-ruling part of Denmark, which controls the region’s foreign and security policy. Still, the president somehow thinks that buying 836,300 square miles of fjord-riddled tundra floating in the middle of the North Atlantic could be feasible since “Denmark was having financial trouble over its assistance to Greenland.”

In case you’re wondering, “Um, why would he do that?” it’s not necessarily because the president is eyeing the island as the next Trump Towers location. After all, 80 percent of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet, and the population is estimated at less than 60,000. But the island is considered to be rich in valuable minerals, which may be easier to access as its vast ice sheets melt.

Of course, there are some major issues with this plan. For one thing, Greenland is not looking for a buyer. In response to Trump’s alleged interest in purchasing the island, officials politely told the president, Thanks, but no thanks.

”We have a good cooperation with [the] USA, and we see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer,” the government of Greenland said in a short statement. “Of course, Greenland is not for sale.”

#2: Greenland is melting

For decades, the Arctic has been galloping toward a more perturbed state butt they seem to have reached a fever pitch this summer. Greenland’s ice sheet just had its biggest daily melt event ever recorded. That resulting rise in sea level is, you know, bad news for all us coastal peeps.

The story received a lot of attention after sobering images of Greenland’s melting glaciers flooded the internet. According to the Associated Press, a team of NASA scientists is flying over Greenland to further understand why this is happening. Greenlanders, on the other hand, have a pretty good idea of what to blame (see next story).

#3: Greenlanders are convinced of climate change

Greenlanders are not snoozing on global warming. According to the first-ever national survey examining the human impact of the climate emergency, dubbed Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change, 92 percent of people in Greenland believe climate change is happening.

As for the 8 percent of respondents who didn’t answer in the affirmative? Only 1 percent actually said they didn’t believe in climate change, and around 6 percent said they didn’t know.

More than three-quarters of Greenlanders surveyed said they’ve felt the effects of climate change, with many expressing concerns about everything from its impact on sled dogs to food security.

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Greenland’s moment in the sun goes beyond Trump’s real estate interests

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Secrets of Mental Math – Arthur Benjamin & Michael Shermer


Secrets of Mental Math
The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks
Arthur Benjamin & Michael Shermer

Genre: Mathematics

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: August 8, 2006

Publisher: Crown/Archetype

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

These simple math secrets and tricks will forever change how you look at the world of numbers. Secrets of Mental Math will have you thinking like a math genius in no time. Get ready to amaze your friends—and yourself—with incredible calculations you never thought you could master, as renowned “mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin shares his techniques for lightning-quick calculations and amazing number tricks. This book will teach you to do math in your head faster than you ever thought possible, dramatically improve your memory for numbers, and—maybe for the first time—make mathematics fun. Yes, even you can learn to do seemingly complex equations in your head; all you need to learn are a few tricks. You’ll be able to quickly multiply and divide triple digits, compute with fractions, and determine squares, cubes, and roots without blinking an eye. No matter what your age or current math ability, Secrets of Mental Math will allow you to perform fantastic feats of the mind effortlessly. This is the math they never taught you in school.

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Secrets of Mental Math – Arthur Benjamin & Michael Shermer

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Clean Up On Aisle Trump

Mother Jones

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In early March, a procession of lawyers in boxy suits and overcoats crowded into a chandeliered dining room at Tony Cheng’s in Washington, DC’s Chinatown. Justice Department attorneys passed heaping plates of beef with broccoli and spring rolls to corporate law firm partners and think tank fellows in bow ties. A sign taped to the restaurant’s entrance announced the event was sold out, and regulars of the Federalist Society’s monthly luncheon marveled at the turnout. The featured guest was Donald F. McGahn II, who had recently ascended to one of Washington’s most influential legal perches, White House counsel.

After the fortune cookies were distributed, C. Boyden Gray, a former White House counsel to George H.W. Bush and a Federalist Society board member, approached the microphone. McGahn was stuck at the White House dealing with a “pressing matter,” he informed the disappointed audience. Gray didn’t elaborate. He didn’t need to: The night before, the Washington Post had revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had told the Senate that he had no contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign, had in fact met twice with Russia’s ambassador.

Trump Might Be a Dream Come True for Megarich Campaign Donors

Hours after the Federalist Society luncheon let out, Sessions recused himself from ongoing investigations into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. President Donald Trump spent the next day fuming at his staff—particularly McGahn, who had to explain to the incensed commander in chief that Sessions’ recusal was the AG’s decision alone. Early the next morning, Trump rattled off a series of tweets accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. McGahn was soon on a plane to Mar-a-Lago; his surreal task was to figure out how the administration might retroactively prove an explosive allegation that Trump had tossed out without evidence.

As the top legal adviser to the president, the White House counsel is one of the most vital positions in any administration. The counsel vets executive orders and nominees, reviews the legal aspects of national security matters, and monitors compliance with federal ethics laws. Rarely does an order or a memo leave the White House without the counsel’s sign-off. Gray says that during his time as counsel, his office received four times more paperwork than any other White House department. (This was before email.) A former Obama White House counsel told me, “People used to say to me, ‘You and the chief of staff are the only two people who really touch everything.'”

Above all, the White House counsel’s role is to keep the president out of trouble, legal or otherwise. With Trump, that’s a Herculean task. McGahn has represented scandal-plagued Republicans—Tom DeLay was a client—but the controversy and chaos engulfing the Trump White House are another order of magnitude. McGahn represents the most conflict-ridden commander in chief in the nation’s history. He has spent his short time in the White House constantly rushing to put out fires.

On paper, McGahn, who is 48, wasn’t an obvious choice for White House counsel. He has never previously worked in a presidential administration, and he has all the attributes of the Washington elites whom Trump has denounced. (One attendee of McGahn’s 2010 wedding says it was like “a convention for election lawyers.”) Trump vowed to get big money out of politics, while McGahn has spent much of his legal career helping candidates and donors stretch the limits of campaign finance laws. “The irony is that Trump campaigned on ‘draining the swamp,'” says Dan Weiner, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, “but it’s my impression that Don thinks the ‘swamp’—at least as many good-government types would define it—is necessary and constitutionally protected.” (McGahn did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Yet on another level, McGahn is ideally suited for a job in the Trump White House. The administration’s deregulatory agenda—the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” as chief strategist Stephen Bannon put it—is perfectly in sync with McGahn’s libertarian views. To carry out that mission, he has put together a team of nearly 30 lawyers, many of whom are experts in federal law and how to unravel it. McGahn has plenty of experience dismantling the bureaucracy from within: That was precisely the program he pursued for five years while serving on the Federal Election Commission. “He didn’t care about the institution, and he seemed mostly interested in grinding its work to a halt,” says David Kolker, a former associate general counsel at the FEC who worked alongside McGahn. “Don had a blow-it-up mentality.”

Before recent renovations, visitors to the ninth floor of the FEC’s headquarters, where the commissioners have their offices, were greeted by a wall of black-and-white photographs—headshots of all 23 commissioners who had served the agency since its founding in 1975. All except one.

McGahn, who was on the FEC from 2008 to 2013, had refused to sit for his official photo. It was his way of dispelling the notion that he had any affinity for his employer. The way he saw it, he was reining in an overzealous bureaucracy that trampled the rights of ordinary Americans. No commissioner has done more to change the agency.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, McGahn carved out a niche as the go-to lawyer for House Republicans and spent nearly a decade representing the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm for House Republicans. When House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was accused of ethics violations, partly in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, McGahn led his legal defense. (DeLay resigned from Congress but was exonerated in 2013.) In 2005, McGahn hung his own shingle and built a modest practice focusing on election-related cases. (He’d convinced the NRCC to keep him on retainer as its general counsel—an unorthodox and lucrative arrangement.) He developed a reputation as a fierce ideologue with a deep understanding of the law, but within the clubby network of election lawyers, he cut an odd figure. He lacked an Ivy League pedigree, wore his hair long, and spent weekends playing guitar in local rock bands. (His latest, Scott’s New Band, which advertised itself as “one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most exciting and flat-out FUN cover bands,” split up in December as McGahn prepared to enter the White House.) “He is kind of an iconoclast,” says James Bopp, a prominent conservative election lawyer.

Don McGahn and his band play in Ocean City, Maryland in 2011.

Republicans had floated McGahn in the 2000s to fill an open seat on the FEC. He never hid his disdain for the independent agency—a perspective that undoubtedly appealed to lawmakers who thought of the agency as a nuisance. “The original intent was for it to be a glorified congressional committee,” he said in 2001. Nodding to the fact that the commission is appointed by the same people—members of Congress—whom it regulates, McGahn acknowledged that “you have the charge of the fox guarding the hen-house.”

Congress designed the FEC to ensure bipartisanship, mandating that the six-member commission have no more than three members from either party. The commission can’t act without a four-vote majority. But in 2008, in what some commissioners call the “dark ages,” it was down to two members. Without a quorum, the agency could do little more than run its website and keep the lights on.

Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell cut a deal in the summer of 2008 to end the FEC’s impasse when they confirmed a slate of new commissioners, McGahn among them. From the beginning, McGahn made clear he felt no kinship with his new employer. “A lot of the staff said, ‘Welcome to the agency. It’s so nice to have you join us,'” recalls Eric Wang, an election lawyer who got to know McGahn while working for another Republican commissioner. “He made a point of saying, ‘I’m not joining you,'” making it clear that he was not there to collaborate with the career agency staff, but rather to serve as a check on them.

Watch Trump’s Top White House Lawyer Shred on the Guitar

The FEC has always suffered from partisan infighting. Still, former Democratic and Republican commissioners say they largely viewed their job as enforcing the law and finding four-vote majorities on the cases before them. That seemed to change with the arrival of McGahn and his two Republican colleagues, Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen, according to Ellen Weintraub, the FEC’s most senior Democratic commissioner, who recalls that they kept their deliberations to themselves and voted as a bloc. The first time Weintraub witnessed this, she thought, “What? You have one brain for the three of you?”

McGahn was seen as a domineering force on the commission. “There is no nice way to say it: At some point, McGahn will be an asshole,” conservative lawyer Steve Hoersting warned newly confirmed Commissioner Petersen in a 2008 email. “He’ll insist he knows the better course on an issue and will insist you go along. Don likes to employ the ‘trust me’ method of persuasion.”

Weintraub says it was nearly impossible to pry any information out of McGahn, who refused to return her messages or reply to her emails. He rarely seemed to be in his office. Once, Weintraub bumped into his executive assistant in the women’s restroom. “She looked at me, and without even a hello she blurted out, ‘He’s not in, I don’t know when he’s going to be in, I don’t know when I’m going to be talking to him.'”

To his critics, McGahn was on a one-man crusade to destroy the FEC from within. An analysis by the good-government organization Public Citizen found that the number of deadlocked enforcement votes spiked after his arrival, from an average of 1 or 2 percent in the early and mid-2000s to 15 percent in 2011. McGahn had no qualms about undermining the FEC’s nonpartisan lawyers—in one case, he posted a memo to the agency’s website contradicting the commission’s attorneys in an ongoing lawsuit. He bragged about disregarding parts of the law he disputed or saw as out of sync with court rulings. “I’m not enforcing the law as Congress passed it,” he told a group of law students in 2011, referring to the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, which was partially invalidated by the 2010 Citizens United ruling. “I plead guilty as charged.”

Former FEC employees say McGahn’s hostility to the agency sometimes extended to its staff. Lawyers from the Office of the General Counsel—which issues recommendations to the commission and defends the FEC in lawsuits filed by outside parties—got the worst of it. When junior lawyers appeared before the commissioners in closed sessions, McGahn could be brutal, former FEC employees say. “I remember passing my boss notes saying, ‘Make him stop,'” one former executive assistant told me. “He would pick on not the supervising attorney, but the line attorney—like a cat would play with a mouse, swatting him.” McGahn, former colleagues recall, saw the career employees as liberal do-gooders, and he made it his mission to rein them in. “He would berate the staff,” says a former FEC lawyer. “He said they came to certain conclusions because they favored the Democrats.”

Don McGahn and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, conversing in the Oval Office. Stephen Crowley/New York Times/Redux

The FEC’s lawyers enjoyed an open line of communication with the Justice Department. The two agencies often worked different sides of the same cases—the DOJ handled the criminal side while the FEC handled the civil. Near the end of his tenure, McGahn pushed for changes to the agency’s enforcement manual so the Office of General Counsel couldn’t share information with other federal agencies without the commission’s approval. McGahn also sought to require FEC lawyers to get four votes on the commission before accessing publicly available information—such as news clips and old lawsuits—in enforcement matters. Allies of McGahn say these moves were intended to bring order to an out-of-control bureaucracy. (Both efforts were unsuccessful, though his proposals have since become de facto policy at the commission.) FEC lawyers saw McGahn’s efforts as an attempt to handcuff them. The FEC’s general counsel at the time, Anthony Herman, quit in frustration.

McGahn left the commission in September 2013 and returned to private practice. If his goal was to paralyze the nation’s election watchdog, he largely succeeded. Deadlocked votes continue. Enforcement actions and assessed fines have dropped. (The Republican commissioners tout these statistics as evidence that more candidates and committees are following the law, while Democrats say they’re proof of the agency’s failure to act.) The commission has gone more than three years without naming a new general counsel, and Congress hasn’t confirmed any new members since 2013, with one current member’s term having expired as many as 10 years ago. A 2016 survey of federal employees found that morale at the FEC was at its lowest ever. Ann Ravel, a Democratic commissioner, recently resigned two months early, weary of the FEC’s dysfunction.

McGahn is not solely at fault for the FEC’s sorry state—but those who worked alongside him or observed his time there say he deserves much of the blame. “He ushered in a strategic approach to gridlocking that agency,” says David Donnelly, president of the election reform group Every Voice, “because if an agency can’t do its job, it can’t enforce the law.”

In late 2014, McGahn met Donald Trump for the first time. He was now a partner at Jones Day and had taken on high-profile conservative clients, including the political action committee of the billionaire Koch brothers and Citizens United, the nonprofit group behind the monumental Supreme Court ruling of the same name. David Bossie, the head of Citizens United, had hired McGahn to spearhead a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to block disclosure of its donors. (The suit ultimately lost.) As Trump mulled a presidential run, Bossie recommended McGahn as a campaign lawyer.

According to a person familiar with the meeting, McGahn reminded Trump that they had a personal connection. In the early 1980s, when the real estate mogul wanted to muscle his way into the fledgling casino industry in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he hired McGahn’s uncle Patrick, a local lawyer and political power broker. A three-time Purple Heart recipient nicknamed Piano Wire Paddy for his weapon of choice in the Korean War, Paddy McGahn and his brother Joe, a Democratic state senator, had been instrumental in bringing casino gambling to Atlantic City. Paddy, who died in 2000, paved the way for Trump’s Atlantic City expansion. When a Trump executive complained at the time about his high legal fees, Trump reportedly said, “Jack, I’m 13 and 0 with this guy.”

By the time Trump opened his first casino in 1984, however, the McGahns had undergone a conversion. Tired of operating under Paddy’s thumb, the state assemblyman for Atlantic City, Steven Perskie, had challenged Joe McGahn for his state Senate seat in 1977. The Democratic machine threw its weight behind Perskie (McGahn ran as an independent), and Perskie won the election—a betrayal in the eyes of the McGahn family. Thereafter, the McGahns were Republicans.

What the FEC?

Don McGahn, who grew up in Atlantic City, was one of Trump’s earliest campaign hires. The lawyer, though, didn’t bet entirely on Trump. In March 2015, he also took on another client: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s leadership PAC, seen as a vehicle for a Perry presidential run. It is not uncommon for rival candidates to be represented by lawyers at the same law firm, but rarely does the same attorney work for more than one contender, according to election lawyers I spoke to.

McGahn was in attendance for Trump’s official campaign announcement in the rose-marble lobby of Trump Tower in June 2015. It was a landmark moment in a lucrative partnership. According to an election lawyer I talked to, a presidential campaign typically pays a flat fee in the range of $25,000 to $35,000 a month for legal representation. Jones Day, according to a former Trump staffer, instead billed the campaign on an hourly basis, racking up monthly bills of as much as several hundred thousand dollars. “For the guy who wrote The Art of the Deal, Trump got totally screwed on the deal with Jones Day,” the election lawyer told me.

McGahn came to play an integral role as the race wore on. In November 2015, he beat back an attempt by the former chair of New Hampshire’s Republican Party to keep Trump off the ballot in the state. As Trump delivered his victory speech in Manchester, a beaming McGahn stood onstage with the Trump family. And it was McGahn who introduced Trump to Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society executive who oversaw the Trump campaign’s assembly of two lists of potential Supreme Court nominees as a way to win over skeptical Republicans. Polls show that Trump’s picks played a key role in convincing social conservatives to hold their noses and vote for him.

For a campaign with no shortage of drama, McGahn proved remarkably adept at ducking attention. In a rare on-camera interview with a right-wing TV network called the One America News Network on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, he predicted that Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton and claim the presidency in November. Asked what Trump would say in his RNC acceptance speech, McGahn grinned. “I wouldn’t dare begin to guess.”

One day this winter, C. Boyden Gray passed the scrum of photographers camped out in the lobby of Trump Tower and rode the elevator up. McGahn, now the White House counsel-to-be, had sought his advice on how to represent the most unorthodox president in perhaps all of American history. Their conversation focused on the massive ethics conundrums facing President-elect Trump, Gray told me. He’d tackled ethics questions himself while working as White House counsel for George H.W. Bush, who made a fortune in the oil industry, but “I didn’t have anywhere near the complexities that Don McGahn had,” he says.

Those who know McGahn see his influence at play in the White House’s laissez-faire approach to ethics and its insistence that conflict-of-interest rules don’t apply to Trump. Trump has refused to divest from his business holdings, raising the possibility of self-enrichment by virtue of the office and violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from accepting payments from foreign governments. Trump told the New York Times in November that a sitting president “can’t have a conflict of interest” and that the law was “totally on my side.” The idea that conflict-of-interest laws don’t apply to the president “is vintage McGahn,” a former colleague told me.

McGahn’s hiring choices to oversee Trump’s sprawling ethics portfolio may be telling. As his top deputy in charge of compliance and ethics, he brought on Stefan Passantino, a lawyer perhaps best known for representing former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert in their respective ethics scandals—Gingrich for using tax-deductible money for political purposes and submitting false information to House investigators, and Hastert for failing to properly disclose that he’d paid legal bills with campaign funds in connection with the congressional page scandal. (Years later, Hastert admitted in court to abusing young boys and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for illegally paying hush money to one alleged victim.) Under McGahn, as Politico reported, the White House eschewed the traditional ethics briefing for senior staffers. After the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics recommended that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway be reprimanded for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing business, Passantino refused, arguing that many federal ethics laws don’t apply to White House employees. OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr. countered that Passantino’s assertion “cites no legal basis” and “is incorrect.”

Follow the Dark Money

Ethics haven’t been the only issue dogging McGahn and the counsel’s office. The chaos surrounding Trump’s January 27 travel ban raised the question of whether McGahn was in over his head. His attempt to clarify the order via a legal memo in federal court was panned by outside legal experts, and his case was not helped when Trump went on a Twitter tirade against the “so-called judge” who had made a “ridiculous” ruling. (If McGahn did urge Trump to curb his attacks on the judiciary, Trump didn’t listen: After the administration’s revised immigration order was blocked in court in March, Trump called the ruling “terrible” and “done by a judge for political reasons.”)

A more experienced counsel, say ex-White House lawyers and other legal experts, would have consulted federal agencies before releasing such an explosive order and stopped the president from launching verbal assaults against members of the judiciary. “One person who must bear responsibility for the awful rollout of the EO is White House Counsel Donald McGahn,” Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, wrote on the website Lawfare. If McGahn had tried to restrain Trump and failed, Goldsmith argued, then he was ineffectual; if he had not attempted to corral Trump and correct the flaws in the immigration order, he was incompetent.

Still more questions were raised about McGahn’s judgment and the White House’s vetting process when the Washington Post reported that national security adviser Michael Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and that the Justice Department had briefed McGahn about it during the transition. The next day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that McGahn had conducted his own review and “determined that there is not a legal issue.”

Former White House lawyers were stunned. “I wouldn’t have done that,” a former Obama White House counsel told me. “I don’t know what the FBI knows. I don’t know who they’re interviewing.” Goldsmith, the former senior Justice Department lawyer, questioned how rigorous McGahn’s review could have been. The White House counsels he knew, Goldsmith wrote, “were all tough-minded but extremely prudent in dealing with legal jeopardy related to the White House, especially if that jeopardy touched someone as close to the President as his National Security Advisor.” He added, “It is far from clear that the current White House counsel has acted in this fashion.” And McGahn’s judgment was once again called into question when news reports revealed that Flynn had worked as a foreign agent on behalf of Turkish interests at the same time he served as Trump’s national security adviser—a troubling conflict that the incoming White House counsel was briefed on but declined to address.

In late March, two of McGahn’s underlings in the counsel’s office were reported to have helped supply classified intelligence reports to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House intelligence committee, in an attempt to support President Trump’s unfounded allegation that his predecessor had wiretapped him. The revelation raised questions about whether McGahn had played any part in this effort.

The mark of a great White House counsel, experts say, is providing sound legal advice to the commander in chief whether he wants to hear it or not. But with McGahn, the evidence so far—the lax approach to Trump’s ethics problems, the execution of the immigration order, the Flynn imbroglio—suggests a loyal lieutenant eager to please the president. “Don is an expert. He is not a lawyer who says, ‘You simply are unable to do X,'” a former Trump campaign aide told me. “He’ll look for every single type of way to be able to do X.” Which, in the end, may be the last thing this president needs.

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Clean Up On Aisle Trump

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Watch Trump’s Top White House Lawyer Cover Metallica and Journey

Mother Jones

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By day, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now President Trump’s top White House lawyer, was known in and around the Beltway as a buttoned-up Republican election lawyer. By night, though, he played a different role entirely: lead guitarist in a number of bands that gigged throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

And let it be said: McGahn can shred.

Below are videos of his most recent band, Scott’s New Band, covering songs by everyone from Metallica to Cyndi Lauper to Loverboy. (That’s McGahn stage right with the hat.) The band played its last show in December, before McGahn assumed his new role as White House counsel. No word yet if McGahn, who liked to noodle on his guitar while reading campaign filings at a previous job at the Federal Election Commission, brought his six-string with him to the West Wing.

“Enter Sandman,” Metallica:

“Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey:

“Jessie’s Girl,” Rick Springfield:

“Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper:

“You Shook Me All Night Long,” AC/DC:

Source – 

Watch Trump’s Top White House Lawyer Cover Metallica and Journey

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Woman Publicly Shames Florida Gov. Rick Scott at Starbucks for Anti-Abortion Bill and Medicaid Cut

Mother Jones

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott was served quite the verbal beatdown on Tuesday after a woman publicly shamed the Republican governor for a laundry list of GOP-supported issues—and it all unfolded on camera at a local Gainesville Starbucks.

“You cut Medicaid so I couldn’t get Obamacare,” Cara Jennings told the visibly shaken governor as he waited to pay for his coffee. “You’re an asshole. You don’t care about the working people. You should be ashamed to show your face around here.”

When Scott attempted to placate Jennings with the defense that his governorship created a million jobs, Jennings refused to back down and continued with her stunning reproach.

“A million jobs?” Jennings responded. “Who here has a great job or is looking forward to finishing school? Do you really feel like you have a job coming up?”

“You strip women of access to public health care. Shame on you, Rick Scott!”

Afterwards, Jennings told a local news station that several people thanked her for taking a stand against the governor. The incident, however, proved too much for Scott, who slunk out of the Starbucks empty-handed.

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Woman Publicly Shames Florida Gov. Rick Scott at Starbucks for Anti-Abortion Bill and Medicaid Cut

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The Election in Arizona Was a Mess

Mother Jones

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Faith Decker, a 19-year-old sophomore at Arizona State University, got off work a little early Tuesday night so she could vote in her first-ever primary. She arrived at a church in southeast Phoenix just before 7 p.m. to find “the line wrapped completely around the corner, 300 to 400 people.” After waiting in that line for more than three hours, she finally reached the check-in desk. She was told that she couldn’t vote—not because the polls had closed three hours before, but because she was registered in a different county.

Decker says that while waiting in line, she saw several people get frustrated and leave before they cast their ballots, and that the election workers seemed confused, taking a long time to process voters once they got to the table.

“It’s just kind of all a giant disappointment to everyone who usually comes out and votes in person,” she said. And as a first-time voter she was shocked “to see that it was so unorganized, or disorderly.”

Decker’s long wait and disappointing outcome was shared by many voters in Maricopa County, Arizona, the state’s biggest county, with 2 million registered voters, who live in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale, and other larger communities. Images of people waiting hours under the hot sun and into the night filled Twitter timelines and cable TV broadcasts. The last person to cast a ballot didn’t do so until after midnight, according to the Arizona Republic, nearly five hours after the Democratic race had already been called for Hillary Clinton, and a few hours after Donald Trump was declared as the Republican winner.

Election officials said that the long lines were due, in part, to a large number of unaffiliated or independent voters trying to vote. Only those registered with one of the recognized parties were allowed to cast ballots. The state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, issued a statement Wednesday morning calling the situation “unacceptable” and called for allowing independents to be able to vote in presidential primaries.

But Arizona has a long history of problems at the ballot box. Until 2013, the Grand Canyon State was one of 16 states required to clear all changes to voting law and procedures with the US Department of Justice, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, because of its history of discriminatory and racist election practices. The two-part formula used to determine which jurisdictions would fall under the Department of Justice’s review process was created nearly fifty years before in 1965 and attempted to insure that the voting age population actually was able to vote. The first criteria was if a jurisdiction had a “test or device” that restricted the opportunity to register to vote on Nov. 1, 1964. The state would also be scrutinized if less than half of voting-age people in a jurisdiction were registered to vote, or if less than half of the voting-age population actually did vote in the presidential election of November 1964.

The formula was ruled unconstitutional in the 2013 US Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder, in which an Alabama County argued that jurisdictions covered by Section 5 “must either go hat in hand to Justice Department officialdom to seek approval, or embark on expensive litigation in a remote judicial venue.” With the court’s ruling, Arizona (and the other states and jurisdictions previously covered by so-called “pre-clearance”) could make changes to voting laws and procedures without federal oversight. But in a state that took six years to adopt a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, is the home of the controversial Maricopa County Sheriff, and Donald Trump supporter, Joe Arpaio, and where SB 1070 required police to determine a person’s immigration status when there was “reasonable suspicion” that they were in the country illegally, the difficulties in voting raised some concerns about darker motivations.

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, the woman in charge of administering the county’s elections, said in an interview with a local news reporter Tuesday night that “the voters, for getting in line” were at least partly to blame for the long lines:

On Wednesday she told the county board of supervisors that she would “do it differently” if she could do it again, and that she “takes the blame” for what went wrong. She also blamed independent and unaffiliated voters who tried to vote for slowing down the process. Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo said, “I just don’t buy that,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Purcell couldn’t be reached for comment.

One reason for the long lines is the fact that the county went from 200 polling locations in 2012 to just 60 in 2016. As Republic reporter Caitlin McGlade noted Tuesday night, Maricopa County’s 60 polling locations worked out to about one for every 20,833 eligible voters, compared to one polling station serving 2,500 voters in other Arizona counties.

State Sen. Martín Quezada, (D-Phoenix), offered his own explanation for the lack of polling locations in his area on Wednesday:

Tammy Patrick, the county’s former federal elections compliance officer, is now a senior advisor of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC, where she consults with jurisdictions around the country about voting administration best practices. She said that the comparison between 200 polling stations in 2012 and 60 in 2016 is misleading because the 200 polling stations in 2012 were “precinct-specific”, while the 60 this year were so-called “voting centers,” where voters could cast ballots anywhere in the county. Jurisdictions in 33 states are moving to or already use a vote-center model, she says, which are attempts by local election officials to help voters who appear at incorrect precinct voting locations.

“This alleviates all of that,” she says. “People could go anywhere, but it also meant they had to have much larger facilities. So they had fewer number of options on where they could get a facility large enough to be a vote center that would allow them in.”

Patrick’s job from late 2004 through the end of the Voting Rights Act coverage in 2013 was to make sure Maricopa County voting decisions complied with federal laws. She said her former county election colleagues “were all very disappointed when the Voting Rights Act enforcement went away because it kind of protected them from the crazy legislature down the street.”

The question remains why county level officials limited the number of vote-centers to just 60, but Patrick suggests it might have to do with finding locations around the county that could accommodate large groups of people and would likely have occurred under the old Voting Rights Act requirements, despite suggestions to the contrary. She admitted, though, that there’s a context for concerns about discrimination.

“It’s a heightened environment, without a doubt,” she says. “Anything that doesn’t go absolutely perfectly is going to be viewed as some sort of a tactic. Now when it comes to things like legislation, that’s quite possible that there are legislative acts that are done down the street that maybe have that sort of intent, but that’s certainly not the case at the local level.”

The Arizona Republic called the entire situation an “outrage” in an editorial Wednesday, and added that the decision to switch to a vote-center model was a “cost-cutting measure” that was “badly bungled” by county election officials who “did not account for such things as high turnout or parking.”

Whoever’s to blame, the net result was the same: thousands of people stood in line for hours, some of whom gave up and ended up not voting. Erika Andiola, the national press secretary for Latino outreach for the Sanders campaign, said she heard from her volunteers about people leaving lines and waiting hours and hours to vote.

“I’m pretty sure that other campaigns were concerned,” Andiola says. “It’s not just about Bernie Sanders, but it’s really about Arizona. How can you have such a big number of people who are trying to participate in our elections that are treated this way? We want to encourage voting, we don’t want to discourage voting. That’s definitely not something we should be doing in any state.”

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The Election in Arizona Was a Mess

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This Is How Prosecutors (Still) Keep Black People Off Juries

Mother Jones

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The exclusion of black people from juries is a hot topic this week, as the United States Supreme Court considers the case of Timothy Foster, a black man charged with murdering an elderly white woman in Georgia some three decades ago. Foster was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury after prosecution lawyers used their so-called peremptory strikes to disqualify the blacks in the pool, citing “race-neutral” reasons.

Up until this point in the case, the courts had accepted those alternative rationales. But the prosecutors’ notes from jury selection, which were finally revealed thanks to a Public Records Act request, suggest a deliberate exclusion strategy. On the list of prospective jurors, the black names were circled, highlighted in green, and marked with a “B.” They were also ranked, an investigator for the prosecution noted in an affidavit, in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.” Ouch. (Yesterday, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer tracked down one of those rejected jurors, who recalled prosecutors the treating her “like I was a criminal.”)

“We have an arsenal of smoking guns,” Foster’s lawyer, the famed capital defender Stephen Bright, told the high court during Monday’s oral arguments. Several justices seemed to agree. “Isn’t this as clear a Batson violation as this court is likely to see?” asked Justice Elena Kagan.

She was referring to the 1986 case of Batson vs. Kentucky, in which the Supreme Court explicitly prohibited the striking of jurors based on ethnicity. But the legal profession has long looked the other way as prosecutors come to court armed with what, in the Foster case, was described as a “laundry list” of alternative explanations for a juror’s removal. Things like, “Oh, this juror is about the defendant’s age,” or “They grew up in the same part of the city.”

Among other things, Foster’s lead prosecutor noted that several of the prospective black jurors he dismissed hadn’t made sufficient eye contact when he questioned them. In any case, it’s not hard to invent reasonable-sounding explanations for striking a juror, and therein lies the problem. Only when you run the numbers does the racist intent comes into sharp focus.

For a little context, it’s helpful to look at portions of Marc Bookman’s recent essay about Kenneth Fults, another Georgia death row inmate. One of the jurors in that case, a white man, later made the following statement under oath: “That nigger got just what should have happened. Once he pled guilty, I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that’s what that nigger deserved.” The white lawyer assigned to defend Fults also used the N-word with abandon. But none of this was enough to convince skeptical courts to grant Fults a resentencing. In his essay, Bookman explains how the legal system is rigged against black defendants, and why, without an arsenal of smoking guns, arguing racial discrimination is usually a losing game:

Consider one of the most famous examples, the 1987 Supreme Court case of McCleskey v. Kemp, in which lawyers for Warren McCleskey, a black man sentenced to death for killing a white police officer, presented statistics from more than 2,000 Georgia murder cases. The data demonstrated a clear bias against black defendants whose victims were white: When both killer and victim were black, only 1 percent of the cases resulted in a death sentence. When the killer was black and the victim white, 22 percent were sentenced to death—more than seven times the rate for when the races were reversed.

It wasn’t just jurors who were biased. Prosecutors sought the death penalty for black defendants in 70 percent of murder cases when the victim was white, but only 15 percent when the victim was black.

The Supreme Court was less than impressed with all of this. Justice Lewis Powell, in a 5-4 majority opinion he would later call his greatest regret on the bench, wrote that McCleskey could not prove that “the decisionmakers in his case acted with discriminatory purpose.” In short, evidence of systemic racial bias had no relevance in individual cases…

Georgia executed McCleskey in 1991, but the McCleskey rationale—which the New York Times labeled the “impossible burden” of proving that racial animus motivated any particular prosecutor, judge, or jury—has been used by dozens of courts to reject statistical claims of discrimination in capital cases, even though today’s numbers are not much better.

Bookman goes on to detail the sordid history of jury stacking:

The phrase “legal lynching” first appeared in the New York Times during the infamous 1931 Scottsboro Boys trials, in which nine black youths were charged with raping two white women in Alabama. Their lack of counsel, coupled with the explicit exclusion of black jurors, led the Supreme Court to intercede twice and reverse convictions.

It’s hard to read those opinions today without feeling a sense of horror. Within two weeks of the alleged crime, eight of the nine young men had been sentenced to death in three separate trials by the same jury. Although there was no shortage of black men in Scottsboro County who were legally eligible to serve on juries, there was no record of any of them ever serving on one. Perhaps most remarkably, none of the defendants had a lawyer appointed to represent him until the morning of trial. In 2013, more than 80 years after the arrests, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles posthumously pardoned the three Scottsboro Boys whose convictions still stood.

We have not come nearly as far from these outrages as you might think. People of color are still dramatically underrepresented (PDF) on juries and grand juries, even though excluding people based on race is illegal and undermines “public confidence in our system of justice,” as the Supreme Court put it in 1986. Prospective black jurors are routinely dismissed at higher rates than whites. The law simply requires some rationale other than skin color.

“Question them at length,” a prominent Philadelphia prosecutor suggested to his protégés after the Supreme Court banned race as a reason for striking jurors. “Mark something down that you can articulate at a later time.” For instance, a lawyer might say, “Well, the woman had a kid about the same age as the defendant, and I thought she’d be sympathetic to him.”

In 2005, a former prosecutor in Texas revealed that her superiors had instructed her that if she wanted to strike a black juror, she should falsely claim she’d seen the person sleeping. This was just a dressed-up version of the Dallas prosecution training manual from 1963, which directed assistant district attorneys to “not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans, or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated.”

The 1969 edition of the manual, used into the 1980s, promoted a more subtle brand of stereotyping, noting that it was “not advisable to select potential jurors with multiple gold chains around their necks.” But it hardly mattered: Overt, covert, or in between—the result was the same.

Virtually every state with a death penalty has dealt with accusations that black jurors have been improperly kept off juries. During the 1992 death penalty trial of a defendant named George Williams, for example, a California prosecutor dismissed the first five black women in the jury box. “Sometimes you get a feel for a person,” he explained, “that you just know that they can’t impose it based upon the nature of the way that they say something.” The judge went even further, noting that “black women are very reluctant to impose the death penalty; they find it very difficult.” In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that these jury strikes were not race-based, and deemed the judge’s statement “isolated.” Williams remains on death row.

After North Carolina passed its Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that let inmates challenge death sentences based on racial bias, a state court determined that prosecutors were dismissing black jurors at twice the rate of other jurors. The probability of this being a race-neutral fluke, according to two professors from Michigan State University, was less than 1 in 10 trillion; even the state’s expert agreed that the disparity was statistically significant. Based on these numbers, the court vacated the death sentences of three inmates and resentenced each to life without parole. Six months later, the state legislature repealed the Racial Justice Act.

Finally, in an earlier essay on the case of Andre Thomas, a death row inmate with a long and bizarre history of mental illness, Bookman described yet another ploy to keep black people off Texas juries:

It’s called the “shuffle.” The pool of potential jurors, known as a venire, are seated in a room, and with no information other than what the jurors look like, either side can request that they be shuffled—reseated in a different order.

The order of the venire, it turns out, is crucial to the jury’s final makeup. That’s because each juror is questioned in turn, and if lawyers from either side want to exercise their right to disqualify someone, they have to do it then and there. If it looks like one side is striking a juror based on race—which is not allowed—the other side can mount a challenge. Hence the shuffle: At Andre’s trial, there were initially six African Americans seated in the first two rows. After the shuffle—which proceeded without any objection by the defense—there were no blacks in the first five rows. Ultimately, two black jurors were questioned and dismissed. When all was said and done, the entire jury—not to mention the judge and all of the lawyers—was white.

Smoking guns, people. Smoking guns.

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This Is How Prosecutors (Still) Keep Black People Off Juries

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Florida Governor Refuses to Admit That His Own Investigators Have Cleared Planned Parenthood

Mother Jones

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Good news! Florida regulators have finished their investigation of Planned Parenthood and concluded that there were no problems with their handling of fetal tissue. But you might not know that if you read their press release about the investigation. It turns out that Florida governor Rick Scott preferred to keep this under wraps:

Emails between the governor’s office and AHCA, obtained by POLITICO Florida through a public records request, show the agency prepared a press release that same day noting that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.”

Scott’s office revised the release to exclude that sentence, an email sent by Scott’s communications director, Jackie Schutz, shows. Additionally, the revised release noted the AHCA would refer physicians who worked at the clinics to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.

Kinda reminds you of a half-bright middle schooler who thinks he has a genius idea, doesn’t it?


Florida Governor Refuses to Admit That His Own Investigators Have Cleared Planned Parenthood

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Even If Walter Scott’s Family Wins in Court, the Cop Won’t Pay a Dime

Mother Jones

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The family of Walter Scott, the man who died on Saturday after being shot eight times by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, has decided to sue Slager, the city of North Charleston, and its police department. The civil lawsuit, which will seek damages for wrongful death and civil rights violations, follows murder charges already filed against the now-dismised officer.

Scott’s family is hardly the first to seek civil damages after a police killing. In recent months, relatives of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner have all pursued civil court claims, where success isn’t contingent on a criminal ruling against any police officer. But in the event that the Scott family wins a settlement, it’s highly unlikely that Slager himself will have to pay. As I reported in January:

Instead, taxpayers will shoulder the cost. Between 2006 and 2011, New York City paid out $348 million in settlements or judgments in cases pertaining to civil rights violations by police, according to a UCLA study published in June 2014. Those nearly 7,000 misconduct cases included allegations of excessive use of force, sexual assault, unreasonable searches, and false arrests. More than 99 percent of the payouts came from the city’s municipal budget, which has a line item dedicated to settlements and judgments each year. (The city did require police to pay a tiny fraction of the total damages, with officers personally contributing in less than 1 percent of the cases for a total of $114,000.)

This scenario is typical of police departments across the country, says the study’s author Joanna Schwartz, who analyzed records from 81 law enforcement agencies employing 20 percent of the nation’s approximately 765,000 police officers. (The NYPD, which is responsible for three-quarters of the cases in the study, employs just over 36,000 officers.) Out of the more than $735 million paid out by cities and counties for police misconduct between 2006 and 2011, government budgets paid more than 99 percent. Local laws indemnifying officers from responsibility for such damages vary, but “there is little variation in the outcome,” Schwartz wrote. “Officers almost never pay.”

Schwartz’s study did not include North Charleston or any other law enforcement agency in South Carolina. But if other jurisdictions serve as any indication, Slager likely won’t pay a dime, even if a jury finds him guilty of murdering Scott. Out of the 7,000 cases of police misconduct Schwartz studied, only 700 officers were convicted of a criminal charge. And only 40 officers ever contributed to a civil settlement out of their own pocket.

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Even If Walter Scott’s Family Wins in Court, the Cop Won’t Pay a Dime

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The Walter Scott Shooting Video Shows Exactly Why We Can’t Just Take the Police’s Word For It

Mother Jones

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A white police officer in South Carolina was arrested and charged with murder on Tuesday, after a shocking video emerged showing him fatally shooting an unarmed black man attempting to flee from the scene. The video, which was first published in the New York Times, captures the lethal confrontation between Officer Michael Slager and Walter Scott that quickly ensued during a traffic stop, which included Slager firing eight shots at Scott.

Slager originally told police that Scott had stolen his Taser and attempted to use it against him. This narrative was largely accepted by police authorities, at least according to what they initially told local media. The first report of the fatal encounter reported by the Post and Courier on Saturday ran with the headline, “Man shot and killed by North Charleston police officer after traffic stop; SLED investigating”:

An officer’s gunfire disrupted a hazy Saturday morning and left a man dead on a North Charleston street.

Police in a matter of hours declared the occurrence at the corner of Remount and Craig roads a traffic stop gone wrong, alleging the dead man fought with an officer over his Taser before deadly force was employed.

The officer’s account, witness statements and other evidence gathered from the scene are now the subject of a State Law Enforcement Division investigation to determine whether the shooting, the state’s 11th this year involving a lawmen, was justified.

A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him.

That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.

The description reads eerily similar to police deaths that occur all around the country. If it had not been for the video’s eventual publication, it’s easy to imagine this being the press’ final narrative of how Scott died. Oftentimes, newspapers struggle to report anything more than what law enforcement agencies tell them.

In the case of the Post and Courier’s first story, the paper’s note that “in a matter of hours” police were quick to label the incident nothing more than a “traffic stop gone wrong” is revealing, as the video that has since surfaced clearly shows a very different account: Slager shoots Scott in the back multiple times; an object that appears to be Slager’s Taser is placed next to Scott’s body as he lays handcuffed on the ground.

It’s unclear when authorities became aware that a video of the incident existed, but on Monday, Slager appeared increasingly defensive. Speaking through an attorney, he doubled down on his actions to the same paper, saying he had “felt threatened” by Scott and needed to “resort to deadly force”:

A North Charleston police officer felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser.

That’s why Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, a former Coast Guardsman, fatally shot the man, the officer’s attorney said Monday.

Slager thinks he properly followed all procedures and policies before resorting to deadly force, lawyer David Aylor said in a statement.

Monday’s developments filled in some of the blanks in what was South Carolina’s 11th police shooting of the year.

By Tuesday, the Times and the Post and Courier had obtained a bystander’s footage of the incident and the stories published that day are a direct about-face of the initial account, with both papers leading with news of the officer’s arrest and murder charge. The Post and Courier’s lead below:

A white North Charleston police officer was arrested on a murder charge after a video surfaced Tuesday of the lawman shooting eight times at a 50-year-old black man as the man ran away.

Walter L. Scott, a Coast Guard veteran and father of four, died Saturday after Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager, 33, shot him in the back.

Five of the eight bullets hit Scott, his family’s attorney said. Four of those struck his back. One hit an ear.

In just a few days, the account’s drastic evolution in a single newspaper highlights yet again the problems surrounding police reporting—issues that have received national attention following recent events in Ferguson and New York City. Scott’s tragic death underscores the power video can bring to police accountability. As Scott’s family said during an appearance on the Today show Wednesday, this video helped an officer avoid a successful cover-up. “It would have never come to light,” Walter Scott Sr, Scott’s father, said. “They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others.”

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The Walter Scott Shooting Video Shows Exactly Why We Can’t Just Take the Police’s Word For It

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