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Nov. 20 2017 3:45 PM

Trump Nominee Brett Talley’s Apparent Thoughts on Capital Punishment: “Just Shoot Them”

Since his confirmation hearings for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, 36-year-old Brett Talley has come under criticism for his relative inexperience, his failure to disclose that his wife works as a lawyer in Trump’s White House, and the fact that he didn’t reveal that he’d apparently written a series of pseudonymous message board posts on the website TideFans.com under the username BamainBoston.

In those posts, which covered a wide range of sports and non-sports topics, BamainBoston was open about his enthusiasm for the death penalty. In 2015, for example, BamainBoston noted that it would be “awesome” if Alabama brought back the electric chair. Later in the thread, BamainBoston proposed an alternative means of execution, saying that a “bullet's cheap.” One year earlier, responding to news that an Oklahoma inmate named Clayton Lockett had died of a heart attack on the gurney after his lethal injection was botched, BamainBoston wrote: “Just shoot them. That's effective.”

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In a post this year, BamainBoston indicated he had worked on capital punishment cases in his career. That post read as follows:

Handled a bunch of death row cases in my previous job. With one exception, every one of them admitted that they'd committed the crime but were trying to mitigate to life without parole based on some excuse—drugs, violent childhood, etc. And the one exception the guy was clearly guilty. I don't know the details on this Arkansas case, but death row cases with an actual innocence claim are kind of like abortions based on rape, incest, or the life of the mother. They certainly happen, but the whole debate shouldn't turn on them.

BamainBoston’s message came in a thread titled “Arkansas May Have Just Executed an Innocent Man.” That man, Ledell Lee, was executed earlier this year. Elizabeth Vartkessian of the Marshall Project wrote that the “courts refused to allow Lee's team to conduct DNA testing and new evidence of his likely intellectual disability was never heard.” BamainBoston opined, “I wouldn't spend too much time weeping for Lee.”

As a district court judge, Talley could hear capital criminal cases. At least 18 former death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence and released from prison, the Innocence Project reported in 2009. BamainBoston expressed skepticism that anyone had been executed wrongfully since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977, writing:

Anti-death penalty advocates have gone to great lengths to definitively identify someone from the modern era who was executed and was innocent, Roger Keith Coleman being probably the most famous failed example. But that is beside my point. Feel free to change the standard for the death penalty if you like and give people who make claims of actual innocence yet another appeal process, or have a higher standard for imposition of the death penalty itself, beyond not only a reasonable doubt but any doubt. Do whatever you want, because the vast majority of people on death row are unequivocally and admittedly guilty.

In response to follow-up questions from Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Talley listed his work on death penalty cases as one of his key qualifications as a potential federal judge. In his own follow-up questions, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse noted that Talley had in his role as Deputy Solicitor General of Alabama “defended questionable practices concerning the death penalty, such as executing a mentally incompetent death-row inmate and allowing a judge to override a jury’s recommendation for a life sentence and impose the death penalty.” Talley’s response:

I defended the practices to which you refer in my capacity as an attorney representing a client, the state of Alabama. Those representations will have no influence on my sentencing practices, other than providing familiarity and experience with the legal issues surrounding the death penalty and challenges to sentences generally.

The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Talley’s view in the case of the mentally incompetent death-row inmate. Earlier this month, the court unanimously struck down a lower court ruling blocking the execution of a man who couldn’t remember his crime—but could understand the concepts of crime and punishment—after having suffered a series of strokes.

Find anything noteworthy in BamainBoston's message board posts? Email us at tips@slate.com.

Nov. 20 2017 3:14 PM

Bills Coach Still Not Sure It Was a Mistake to Start Quarterback Who Had Worst Game of All Time

On Sunday, Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott benched quarterback Tyrod Taylor—who’d had a rough game the previous week but is in general a pretty good player—for a rookie named Nathan Peterman. Peterman subsequently turned in what, at least by one measure, was literally the worst performance by a quarterback in modern (post-1970 merger) NFL history, throwing an unprecedented five interceptions in one half against the Los Angeles Chargers. Tayor replaced him in the second half of the game and performed competently, throwing for one touchdown and running for another.

To the layperson, it would seem like Tyrod Taylor should be the Bills’ starting quarterback going forward, given that he is not the worst quarterback in NFL history. But it doesn’t seem that way to Sean McDermott: “I don’t regret my decision,” McDermott said Sunday, telling reporters that he would have to watch film of the game before choosing between Peterman and Taylor. McDermott then gave a press conference Monday from the bottom of a very deep hole in which he is apparently still digging:

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Pretty darn good, folks.

What’s spectacular about this is not that McDermott is trying to rationalize having made a bad choice, which coaches (and noncoaches) do all the time. It’s that he’s doing so using the language of evidence-based decision-making, as if the evidence, upon judicious review during a 5:30 a.m. film session, might indicate that Nathan Peterman actually had a great game. Just give it up, Sean McDermott!

Nov. 20 2017 3:04 PM

Nebraska Commission Clears Final Regulatory Hurdle for Keystone XL Pipeline

Despite Thursday’s large oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota, Nebraska regulators on Monday approved the $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline, clearing a last major hurdle for the project. The move does not guarantee the project’s completion, as some opponents of the pipeline will likely challenge the plans in court, but it does resolve the final regulatory question of the project, according to the Associated Press.

One hitch: The ruling from the Nebraska Public Service Commission requires an alternative route to TransCanada’s preferred path—the one already approved by the federal government. Nebraska’s decision pushes the pipeline extension farther east in the state.

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The expansion would complete the 1,179-mile pipeline built to transport oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. The route would cross Nebraska as well as parts of Montana and South Dakota.

According to the AP, the commission was not allowed to factor in safety or environmental risks, as those are considered federal responsibilities, and therefore during deliberation it ignored last week’s 210,000-gallon spill in South Dakota.

TransCanada has not announced a final decision about whether the project will still go forward, although the AP reports the company says it is operating under the assumption it will. Pipeline opponents are already planning an appeal, the AP reports. The head of Bold Alliance, an organization opposed to the pipeline, told the AP that because the route approved by the Nebraska commission diverges from the one approved by the federal government, a whole new federal review could be required in a process that could last years.

The Keystone XL Pipeline was first rejected in 2015 by President Obama, who raised concerns about its potential environmental effects. President Trump reversed that decision in March.

Nov. 20 2017 1:31 PM

Report: H.R. McMaster, Like Rex Tillerson, Has Said Privately That Trump Is Real Dumb

Remember when NBC reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Donald Trump a “fucking moron” during a meeting in which the president was not involved, triggering a process of escalating stupidity that culminated in Trump challenging Tillerson to an I.Q. test that sadly did not ever take place? Well, going by a report by BuzzFeed’s Joe Bernstein, it looks like national security adviser H.R. McMaster wanted a piece of that action:

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz—who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs—McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.
A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.
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Both Oracle and the National Security Council are denying BuzzFeed’s report. On the other hand ... H.R. McMaster is a respected author who has a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and POTUS’ thoughts on geopolitics look like this:

BuzzFeed’s report is plausible.

Nov. 20 2017 12:31 PM

New York Times Suspends Glenn Thrush While Investigating Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

The New York Times has suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush after allegations of sexual misconduct toward young female reporters.

The allegations against Thrush, one of the paper’s star reporters, were detailed in a piece published by Vox on Monday. In the article, Vox’s Laura McGann, the site’s editorial director who worked with Thrush when the two were at Politico, wrote about a personal incident five years ago in which Thrush allegedly started kissing her at a bar and later spread rumors that she had come onto him instead. She also reported that three other female journalists, all in their 20s, had allegedly experienced similar incidents and felt they could not challenge such a respected figure in the field.

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McGann published text messages between the 50-year-old Thrush and the friend of a 23-year-old woman who said she had been left “in tears” after resisting Thrush’s advances after a colleague’s going-away party in June. In the messages, the friend confronted Thrush, who apologized but said he had “spent the better part of 20 years advocating for women journalists.” He also said he "got drunk because [he] got some shitty health news" but needed to “be more understanding of the power dynamics in casual situations.”

In another instance, a young Politico staffer in the winter of 2012–2013 said she and Thrush wound up drunk and at her place after a Politico going-away party and that she stopped him and reminded him he was married. A third woman told McGann that after a 2013 Politico party, Thrush “suddenly ... leaned in and landed a wet kiss on her ear.”

McGann wrote that in her own case, Thrush had no formal power over her. “But he was an incredibly influential person in the newsroom and in political journalism, a world I was still trying to break into in a meaningful way at the time,” she wrote. “Thrush, just by his stature, put women in a position of feeling they had to suck up and move on from an uncomfortable encounter.”

In a statement, Thrush apologized “to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence, and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately” and that “[a]ny behavior that makes a woman feel disrespected or uncomfortable is unacceptable.” He also disagreed with McGann’s version of events between them and said the June incident in which he left a young woman in tears “was a life-changing event” and that he was “deeply sorry.”

The New York Times suspended Thrush pending an investigation. In a statement, the newspaper’s senior vice president of communications said the “behavior attributed to Glenn in this Vox story is very concerning and not in keeping with the standards and values of the New York Times” and that they “support his decision to enter a substance abuse program,” according to Vox.

Thrush is the fifth major media figure to face allegations during the recent weeks. Political journalist Mark Halperin lost a book deal and was shunned by TV news networks, NPR editorial director Michael Oreskes resigned, Vox Media editorial director Lockhart Steele was fired, and prominent fomer New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier lost funding for a new magazine.

Nov. 20 2017 11:25 AM

Border Agent Who May Have Been Attacked Dies in West Texas

A border agent in West Texas died Sunday morning of injuries sustained “responding to activity while on patrol,” U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced in a statement. Authorities have not yet said how 36-year-old Rogelio Martinez was hurt, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a border agents’ union official have suggested he was physically attacked.

Martinez’s partner is reportedly still hospitalized in serious condition; the pair were working in the CBP’s Big Bend Sector some 100 miles east of El Paso, Texas, when they were injured. The last border agent who appears to have been killed during patrol was Nicholas Ivie, who died in 2012.

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Martinez was a native of El Paso.

Nov. 20 2017 10:28 AM

Woman Accuses Al Franken of Groping Her While Posing for Photo

A second allegation against Sen. Al Franken emerged Monday, this time from a woman who has accused Franken of grabbing her buttocks while taking a photo in 2010, according to a report from CNN.

The allegation follows an article published Thursday in which Leeann Tweeden, a radio news anchor in California, wrote that Franken forcibly kissed her in 2006. She also provided a photo showing Franken apparently groping her while she slept. Franken issued an apology, but he has still faced calls for him to resign and a potential ethics investigation.

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On Monday, CNN reported that 33-year-old Lindsay Menz from Frisco, Texas, told the network after Tweeden’s announcement that she had her own “uncomfortable” interaction with Franken.

Menz said in 2010 she went to the Minnesota State Fair with her husband and father and met various officials and celebrities while there, as her father’s business was sponsoring a local radio booth. Franken had been elected to the Senate in 2008.

When she met Franken, she said she had a short exchange with the senator and lined up with him to take a photo. According to CNN:

Franken "pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear," Menz said. "It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek."
"It wasn't around my waist. It wasn't around my hip or side. It was definitely on my butt," she said, recalling that the brazen act lasted three or four seconds. "I was like, oh my God, what's happening."

She said she didn’t say anything to the senator but later told her husband and father soon after, as the two men confirmed to CNN.

Franken said in a statement to CNN that he did not remember the incident and that he felt “badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected."

Nov. 20 2017 9:15 AM

Famed Cult Leader Charles Manson Has Died at 83

Charles Manson, the leader of a murderous cult behind the gruesome 1969 killings of actress Sharon Tate and six others, died Sunday at age 83 of natural causes, according to a press release from the California Department of Corrections.

Manson, who has remained one of the most famous murderers of the past 50 years and a constant source of public fascination, died in the hospital in Kern County, California, after serving most of his life in prison.

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Before the murders, Manson had espoused an erratic ideology that drew on anti-authoritarianism and hippie culture, racial animosity, Scientology, the biblical end times, and Hitler’s writings, and included a belief that an apocalyptic race war called Helter Skelter—named after a Beatles song—was coming. By the summer of 1969, Manson had accrued a small cult following in what became known as the Manson family, composed primarily of young women from middle-class backgrounds.

On Aug. 9, 1969, three of Manson’s followers slaughtered the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, who was then married to the director Roman Polanski, at her home, as well as an heiress to the Folgers Coffee fortune, a celebrity hairdresser, a Polish movie director, and a friend of the estate’s caretaker. The next night, his followers stabbed to death a wealthy grocer and his wife. Manson and his followers believed the murders would hasten the race war, according to prosecutors.

Manson and the involved followers were convicted on several counts of murder and sentenced to death, but before their sentences could be carried out, the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty to be illegal. Manson remained in prison for the rest of his life, and he always maintained he hadn’t ordered the murders and felt no guilt, according to the New York Times. Three of his followers remain in prison.

According to the Associated Press, Manson has no known next of kin, and the California Department of Corrections doesn’t yet know what will happen with the body.

Nov. 19 2017 6:39 PM

Bills Quarterback Nathan Peterman Ties Keith Null for NFL Record. (It's a Record for Being Bad.)

Tyrod Taylor had a rough game last Sunday. Going against an excellent Saints team, the Bills’ normally solid quarterback passed for 56 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. It was the worst game of his career, but rather than let him bounce back against the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott made a befuddling and awful move, deciding to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman in Taylor’s place on Sunday.

Taylor is not a bad quarterback. He was a huge part of the Bills’ 5-4 start, which put them in the thick of the playoff hunt. Peterman, meanwhile, can proudly say that he led the Bills back from a 47-3 deficit to a 47-10 loss against the Saints after Taylor was benched. That’s the extent of Peterman’s NFL career. To sit Taylor after a single bad game was, in a word, stupid. Wait, let’s give it two words: insanely stupid.

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When McDermott announced the switch on Wednesday, he said he was “impressed” by Peterman’s “maturity,” calling the move a “calculated risk.” It now joins history’s other notable calculated risks, including invading Russia in the wintertime and giving Chevy Chase a talk show.

In the first half against the Chargers, Peterman threw for 66 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions in leading the Bills into the locker room down 37-7. He tied the Rams’ Keith Null for most interceptions thrown by a player in his first start, a record set in 2009. I would advise Peterman not to check the trajectory of Null’s career from that point forward.

We saw some bad quarterback play on Sunday, but this was the Mona Lisa of incompetence under center. Heck, it was the entire Louvre. There is really no explanation as to why McDermott kept sending Peterman back out there. Perhaps two billionaires had made a wager that they could turn a street urchin into a starting NFL quarterback, and McDermott had to at least wait until halftime to see the bet out?

Throughout that nightmare first half, the Twitter account of Mike Rodak, ESPN’s Bills reporter, became a Peterman tracking service, alerting disbelieving readers each time the quarterback ran onto the field, and informing us all about just how just loudly the traveling Buffalo fans booed him when he did.

Five interceptions is a lot. For reference, over the first nine games of the season, Taylor had thrown only three. That’s pretty good! I bet the Bills wished they had a quarterback like that.

In conclusion, McDermott managed to aggrieve his starting quarterback, destroy the confidence of the rookie backup, and perhaps throw away his team’s playoff chances, all in one fell swoop.

Taylor replaced Peterman for the Bills’ first offensive series of the second half, but he was joined on the field by hundreds of horses who had escaped before McDermott could shut the barn doors at the StubHub Center.

Peterman, meanwhile, attempted to return to his home planet.

Nov. 19 2017 5:24 PM

Trump Tweets “I Should Have Left Them in Jail” About UCLA Basketball Players Arrested in China

President Donald Trump’s caudillo-like insistence on injecting himself into all aspects of American life continued on Sunday morning, when the president of the United States made another gallingly unnecessary tweet, this time about the legal case of three UCLA basketball players who had been briefly held in China on the suspicion of shoplifting. One of the three freshman players involved in the incident was LiAngelo Ball, brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and son of professional father, LaVar Ball.

Trump, shockingly, was aggrieved that he wasn’t getting more appreciation for helping facilitate their release from the country (aka doing his job).

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The UCLA players were on a team trip to China to play a game against Georgia Tech when they were arrested on Nov. 7 on suspicion of stealing a pair of sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store as well as items from two other high-end stores near the team hotel in Hangzhou. The incident escalated quickly and the players’ passports were taken and their travel restricted by Chinese authorities. The players missed the team’s game with Georgia Tech in Shanghai and were forced to remain behind in China to deal with the fallout of the charges even after the rest of the team returned to Los Angeles.

President Trump said he raised the players’ case with China President Xi Jinping while on his Asian tour earlier this month. The players returned home to the U.S. on Tuesday. By Wednesday, Donald Trump managed to be pre-emptively offended that he wasn't being sufficiently feted.

During a Wednesday press conference, the teenage players, themselves, issued apologies for their behavior and thanked everyone involved for helping to resolve the matter and bringing them home, including President Trump. “I’d also like to thank President Trump and the United States government for the help that they provided as well,” LiAngelo Ball said. All three players were suspended from the Bruins basketball team indefinitely.

That seemed to please our leader who took a pass at dishing sage, almost father-like tweet advice.

LaVar Ball, who has made a name for himself as a professional talker while attempting to build a brand around his three basketball playing sons, was in China during the week-long incident. It’s not totally clear what the exact circumstances of the players’ release were, and when asked about the president’s role, Ball told ESPN Friday: “Who? What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

Ball’s comments, while not particularly gracious given the circumstances, once again proved no slight is too small to pierce the president’s thin candy shell. Sunday’s tweet from the president of the United States calling out Lavar Ball by name somehow seemed like a foregone conclusion. And, in the end, that’s surely exactly what Ball wanted.

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