In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut the immediate question was who had gunned down nearly thirty people, most of them children, before taking his own life.
Early reports, citing Connecticut law enforcement sources, identified the shooter as a twentysomething from Newtown named Ryan Lanza. A Facebook profile fitting that description was easily accessible, and social media users—from professional reporters to online onlookers—immediately assumed they had discovered the Facebook profile of the gunman who had perpetrated the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. News outlets including BuzzFeed, Mediaite, Gawker, and Fox News speculated that the account belonged to the shooter. Journalists from Slate, Huffington Post, CNN, and other news organizations tweeted links to the Facebook profile.
But it was the wrong guy. Press reports are now identifying the shooter as Adam Lanza. Ryan Lanza, identified as Adam's brother, has reportedly been questioned by police. According to the Associated Press, "a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers' first names." The result was that, for a few brief hours in the middle of the day, based on press speculation about the suspect's identity, social media users brought out the digital equivalent of pitchforks and torches, vilifying the alleged shooter's brother and haranguing Ryan Lanzas all across the intertubes.
Political cartoonist Matt Bors, who was Facebook friends with Ryan Lanza but didn't actually know him personally, was inundated with Facebook messages and friend requests as a result. "I was getting messages from people saying, why are you friends with a monster?" Bors says. Looking at Lanza's page, he saw desperate messages posted denying any involvement in the shooting, and posted them to his Twitter feed. "Fuck you CNN it wasn't me," Lanza's post read. (CNN itself did not post or broadcast the profile, though one of their reporters did tweet it.)
Meanwhile, other people named Ryan Lanza with Twitter feeds were deluged by followers and tweets. Facebook exploded with pages devoted to Ryan Lanza with screenshots taken from his profile. Several of them were some variation of this:
But these are far from the only ones:
Very far from the only ones:
Lanza appears to have taken down his Facebook page*.
This isn't the first, nor sadly will it be the last time, that journalists and the masses jump to conclusions in the aftermath of a tragedy based on personal details from social media profiles. Shortly after the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July, ABC reporter Brian Ross speculated on air that the suspect in that shooting, was the same person who had a profile on a tea party website. It turned out they were two different people who merely shared a common name. Ross was pilloried by left and right alike, and eventually apologized for "disseminating that information before it was properly vetted." Then another mass shooting that captured the nation's attention occurred, and lots of other people made the same exact mistake. The temptation to break the news of the shooter's identity overwhelmed the need to make sure they had the right guy.
As news broke of the Newtown school shooting, horror and grief transcended party lines. But for some conservatives, the shooting—and the ensuing calls for reassessing gun policies—also presented a political challenge. Some notable tweets:
.@hyperboledetect Gun Control is not aimed at criminals. It is aimed at the law-abiding only. The liberal dream is us disarmed & docile.
Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate, told Fox News the shooting happened because "we removed God from our schools. (h/t ThinkProgress)
HUCKABEE: Ultimately, you can take away every gun in America and somebody will use a gun. When somebody has an intent to do incredible damage, they’re going to find a way to do it… People will want to pass new laws, but unless you change people’s hearts, they’re our transition to the pastor side. This is a heard issue, it’s not something, laws don’t change this kind of thing.
CAVUTO: How could God let this happen?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability? That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us. But one day, we will stand in judgment before God. If we don’t believe that, we don’t fear that.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association took a similar tack on his radio show today, claiming that God has abandoned our schools because prayer is no longer allowed.
Fischer tweeted this too:
We've spent 50 years kicking God out of our public schools, then wonder why he's not around when we need him.
And even as we speak, the Drive-By Media and the Democrats are attempting to politicize the issue to advance their own agenda. In this case, probably an assault on the Second Amendment again. I guarantee you that they are overturning everything they can in their quest to be able to blame this on Republicans. This, to them, is an opportunity.
Conservative news site Townhall reacts to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's call for gun control legislation by saying this:
I'm going to have some class and avoid this political fight today, but it's important to show what Bloomberg is saying and now pushing for in the wake of tragedy.
Newly revealed court documents in California show a Superior Court judge in Orange County was out-Akining Todd Akin way back in 2008.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the state agency dealing with judicial misconduct has reprimanded Superior Court Judge Derek G. Johnson for telling a woman she should have put up more of a fight against a former boyfriend who raped her:
"I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something," the judge said, according to documents released Thursday. "If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage in inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case."
"That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight."
The judge, who has been on the Orange County Superior Court since 2000, also declared the rape "technical," and not "a real, live criminal case."
Wow, so not only can women's bodies shut down a rapist's sperm to prevent a pregnancy (which is what Todd Akin claimed earlier this year), but now apparently it can actually stop the rape from happening at all.
This is actually more disturbing than Akin's comments, because the judge has the ability to determine things like how long a rapist stays in jail, or whether he even goes there in the first place.
I have no idea what happened to the poor woman in this case, whose ex-boyfriend apparently threatened to mutilate her with a hot screwdriver. But Judge Johnson is still on the bench.
Lance Cpl. Steven A. Wagner, a military policeman assigned to Police Advisory Team 4, serves as a guardian angel while his fellow Marines meet with Afghan Uniformed Police in Kajaki district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 2, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena.
As the Obama administration mulls over how it will respond to the ballot measures that legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is getting ready to turn up the heat on the issue on Capitol Hill. Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to hold a hearing when Congress convenes in January on how the Obama administration will respond to the new laws. Earlier this month, Leahy sent a letter to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seeking assurance that the feds won't go after officials for implementing the laws, and asking for his recommendations on the matter.
Attorney General Eric Holder has already heard from 17 House Democrats, who have urged him to leave Colorado and Washington alone. Ten House members also cosigned a bill introduced by Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette that would prevent the federal government from preempting state marijuana laws, including Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, a marijuana foe who, like Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) and many libertarian-minded Republicans, sees marijuana as a states' rights issue.
Gentlemen, please start your military-Obamacare forced-vaccination conspiracy engines.
The mystical Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting proposals from really smart people "for the development of nucleic acid platforms capable of in vivo host production of a transient immune prophylaxis for adults." Put simply, it appears the Defense Department's brain trust wants an injectable form of blood plasma "that is universal, safe, adaptable, and scalable to protect the US population." It would be capable of morphing inside the human body to protect soldiers and civilians alike from...from what, exactly? "[E]merging or uncharacterized threats." It's kind of like Star Wars for your immune system.
If there is no fiscal crisis, can there be a fiscal cliff?
The current hullabaloo over tax cuts, spending cuts, entitlement programs, and the debt ceiling has yielded much fodder for policy-minded columnists, practically establishing a job creation program for budget-following wonks. Recently, there have been a rash of articles from this set advancing the essential point that raising the eligibility age for Medicare, a proposal that might be on the table (that is, if there is a table), would be awful policy because doing so would remove healthier seniors from the Medicare pool and place this older group into the non-Medicare pool and boost costs there. (Health care costs would presumably go up overall—and particularly for private employers who would have to carry these 65- and 66-year-olds on their policies.) Has this spate of policy op-edding influenced the negotiating positions? We don't know. The talks are all hush-hush. And this week, another policymeister, in one of the most consequential columns of the past fortnight, added another significant contention to the discourse: There is no fiscal crisis.
Bruce Bartlett, who was an economics official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is a contributor to the New York Times' Economix blog, and in an important post a few days ago he delved into the Government Accountability Office's new estimates of the federal government’s long-term budget outlook. The bottom line: "The idea that we are facing a crisis is complete nonsense." Bartlett, by the way, considers himself a conservative, a reality-based conservative. He points out, per the GAO report:
[S]pending is not out of control. Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are rising gently as the baby-boom generation retires. All other spending, including that for the military and domestic discretionary programs, falls—with the notable exception of interest on the debt. Interest rises sharply as the deficit rises, principally because the G.A.O. assumes that revenue will not be permitted to rise above its historical average—as Republicans continually insist.
In other words, the inability to raise revenue to diminish deficits—and tackle rising interest payments—is the major problem.
Here it is in chart form, courtesy of the GAO:
Note the explosive growth in net interest. Using these numbers, Bartlett writes that the GOP's demand that Social Security and Medicare be cut immediately—say, by raising the age of eligibility for Medicare and changing the inflation adjustment formula for Social Security—is not in sync with the actual data:
To be sure, some restraint is needed in federal entitlement programs…Spending for Social Security, in particular, is very stable. Relatively modest changes, such as raising the taxable earnings base slightly, would be sufficient to put the program on a sound footing virtually forever.
Bartlett chides Republicans for droning on and on that domestic discretionary spending is responsible for bloated government. But, he points out, "such programs have already been cut sharply by the Budget Control Act of 2011." He adds, "That leaves interest on the debt as the principal driver of long-term spending and deficits." And if the Rs continue to resist raising revenues, he maintains, there will be higher spending for interest on the debt. (The interest line in that chart could even be much greater, if interest rates go up.)
Bartlett advocates letting all the George W. Bush tax cuts expire and all the automatic spending cuts kick in. He acknowledges that this might cause a short-term hit to the economy, but he argues that taming the deficits will lead to medium- and long-term growth. Whether that's the right policy solution or not—it does entail a difficult trade-off—it's at least based on data that reflects the real world.
His post, though, does make one thing clear: President Barack Obama (or anyone else) need not rush into a big deal at this moment. There is no imminent fiscal crisis regarding entitlements. The Republicans are merely hyping the matter to bolster their attempts to extract a ransom for either (a) extending the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent, or (b) acceding to a hike in the debt ceiling, which will soon reach its latest limit, or both. The sky is not falling. It is not on fire. And the cliff may not be that frightening.
Michigan Republicans are going for broke this week, as the lame-duck session winds down in the state legislature. No sooner had state lawmakers successfully pushed through a new right-to-work bill when they advanced a grab bag of anti-abortion measures that has been called the "greatest assault on reproductive rights" in the state's history.
On Wednesday, the state Senate approved what has been called an "abortion mega-bill." HR 5711 includes measures requiring anyone providing more than 120 abortions per year to do so in facilities that meet the same standards as "ambulatory surgical centers"—a provision often referred to as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" (or TRAP), because they single out abortion providers for standards far stricter than other medical facilities. The building codes alone could shut down many abortion providers in the state.
Other provisions of the bill would require a doctor to be physically present to dispense the drugs used for a medication abortion, which would make it illegal to provide telemedicine abortions. It also implements new rules for the disposal of fetal remains that would require them to be treated like the body of a dead person, rather than treating them like other forms of medical waste.
The Michigan House already passed the original version of the bill, but the Senate amended it somewhat, and the House will vote on it again beofre the lame duck session wraps up. There's little doubt it will pass and be sent on to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R).
Last week, the Michigan state Senate approved a separate bill that would allow doctors to decline to provide any care if they have a "moral objection" to doing so. The bill also allows employers to decline to cover any health care that it finds morally objectionable—like birth control. That measure advanced in a House committee this week but has yet to go to a vote in the full House.
Christie-Anne Edie (center) was sickened during her second Peace Corps service trip.
In the spring of 2009, Christie-Anne Edie contracted a nasty parasite in Burkina Faso, where she was teaching family-planning and sexual health for the Peace Corps. Her gastrointestinal infection was so severe that the Peace Corps had her medically evacuated to Washington D.C., and eventually flown back home to Colorado months later in December.
And that's when her nightmare began.
Incredibly sick and without insurance, Edie was initially assigned a field nurse to file her workers' compensation claims with the Department of Labor. But when her field nurse was abruptly removed from her case, Edie had to navigate the agency's labyrinthine bureaucracy on her own. Since 2010, Edie has accumulated more than $25,000 in unpaid medical bills. The labor department has rejected her claims for reasons varying "from incorrect billing codes to procedures...not related to accepted diagnosis codes," Edie says.
"I just feel like I have been abandoned by Peace Corps," says one former volunteer.
Meanwhile, Edie says the labor department hasn't returned any of her calls or letters, and collection agencies are hounding her.
"I have sacrificed not only my time and my energy for Peace Corps service, but I've sacrificed my health and my finances and my credit and basically my entire life," Edie said in an interview. "I just feel like I have been abandoned by Peace Corps."
Edie's story is far from unique: According to a new investigation by FairWarning, Peace Corps volunteers like Edie, many of whom face sexual assault, injuries, trauma and exotic diseases in developing countries, often fail to receive appropriate medical care and disability payments from the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), the government's workers' compensation program.
In interviews with more than a dozen former Peace Corps service members, FairWarning found that many volunteers "failed to gain government-paid medical care when they returned to the U.S. because they couldn't find doctors registered with FECA. What's more, they say, claims for medical insurance reimbursements often bog down or are rejected because of bureaucratic bottlenecks and the lack of information provided to volunteers."
When called for comment, Peace Corps told FairWarning it couldn't comment on individual cases.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published last month blamed both the Peace Corps and Department of Labor for failing to "work together to use available information to monitor the accessibility and quality of FECA benefits for volunteers."
Although FairWarning notes that Peace Corps officials have acknowledged flaws in the system, this isn't the first time the organization has come under fire for failing to support its volunteers at home. According to FairWarning, in 1991, GAO found (PDF) the Peace Corps Post-Service Unit's officers "often were unable to answer volunteers’ questions about FECA. Many returned volunteers weren't even told they were entitled to health care benefits."
House Republicans have President Barack Obama's back—at least when it comes to targeted killing.
On Thursday, the Republican-dominated House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a resolution compelling the Obama administration to tell Congress why it believes its targeted killing program is legal. In a twist, Republicans like Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) argued that the resolution was an unnecessary and drastic step, while Democrats accused the administration of stonewalling. (When the House Judiciary Committee's Senate counterpart discussed a similar resolution months ago, the party roles were actually reversed.)
"With respect to its targeted killing program, the administration has not yet demonstrated the sort of obstruction that would warrant this extraordinary measure," said Smith, who pointed to Attorney General Eric Holder's speech summarizing the administration's legal views on targeted killing. "There is no evidence that the administration has failed in this responsibility to disclose details of the targeted killing program."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) disagreed. "The process has been painfully slow, and the response that we have received to date has been inadequate," Nadler said. "The power to wage war, and to order the killing of any person, much less an American citizen, is perhaps the most awesome power the president has."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) echoed Nadler. "Unmanned arial vehicles raises a very serious concern for me, because as a follower of Martin Luther King Jr, I belive that justice and peace requires that we try to live up to those goals to the maximum extent possible," Conyers said. "I'm concerned that some of these indivduals have been killed far from an active battlefield, and I’m concered that the legal rationale for the program remains for the most part secret."
Some Republicans, like Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex), said they wanted more information, but there was no rush. "Procedurally, this isn’t the way to go," Poe said. "I would hope in the future the committee gets to this issue."
The resolution failed by a voice vote, which means there's no record of how everyone voted—but it also means there wasn't much support for it anyway. Finding out the administration's legal basis for being able to kill anyone it suspects of being a terrorist anywhere in the world doesn't sound like an urgent priority.
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