Police release body-cam video of Willie McCoy killing, showing him asleep in car – Sam LevinFirst published on Fri 29 Mar 2019 18.05 EDT`


Footage is consistent with claims of McCoy’s family, who said officers did not try to wake him or talk to him before shooting

Vallejo police have released footage of the killing of Willie McCoy at a Taco Bell, showing six officers shooting the 20-year-old who was sleeping in his car.

The disturbing body-camera videos show the young rapper had moved his hand to scratch his shoulder before officers opened fire. The footage is consistent with key claims of McCoy’s family, who watched footage earlier this month and said the officers “executed” him while he was not alert or awake. The videos, released after significant pressure, show:

  • The officers did not try to wake McCoy up or talk to him after they spotted a gun in his lap, and instead pointed their firearms at his head directly outside the car as he slept for several minutes.
  • One officer said: “I’m going to pull him out and snatch his ass.”
  • The officers then realized the firearm did not have a magazine in it, noting to each other that if it was loaded, it would have a single bullet in it: “He’s only got one shot if he shoots.”
  • The officers then appeared to make a plan to fire at him, with one saying, “If he reaches for it, you know what to do.”
  • McCoy eventually started to move, scratching his shoulder and not yet appearing alert or saying anything to officers, and several seconds later, all six officers fired at him.
Police bodycam shows shooting of Willie McCoy – video

Vallejo police officials slowed down the video in the final seconds before the shootings, adding a caption that said “hand reaches to gun on lap”. The videos of the 9 February incident, however, are blurry in that moment and show McCoy’s body moving slightly, but do not capture his hand moving to the firearm, which is not visible in the footage.

Marc McCoy, Willie’s older brother, told the Guardian on Friday that he was glad the public would finally see the video, but was not confident it would lead to justice.

“There’s a thousand videos on YouTube that show police misconduct, whether it’s beatings of citizens or killing them,” said Marc, 50. “It gets dismissed … The Vallejo police saw the video, and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with it or that the officers did anything criminal.”

The police department in Vallejo, 30 miles north-east of San Francisco, has repeatedly claimed that the six officers fired out of “fear for their own safety”. The footage, however, shows some of them talking somewhat calmly for nearly five minutes before they opened fire. Two officers began shooting almost immediately after they arrived on scene as backup.

After the officers stopped shooting, they all kept their guns pointed at the car, shouting, “Let me see your hands! Put your hands up!” One said, “Officers are okay.”

Police hit Willie with an estimated 25 shots, including in his face, throat, chest, ear and arms. John Burris, the family’s lawyer, showed reporters graphic photos of Willie’s body at a news conference Friday, saying, “He was shot to pieces.”

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The Supreme Court Just Halted This Texas Death Row Inmate’s Execution – Nathalie Baptiste March 29, 2019 3:49 PM


He claimed it would violate his religious freedom. They agreed.

Pat Sullivan/AP
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Patrick Murphy was granted a rare stay of execution by the US Supreme Court in a 7-2 vote that took place two hours after he was scheduled to be executed. Murphy’s religious discrimination claim argued that because he was a converted Buddhist, he needed a spiritual adviser to help him get to the Pure Land after death. Only prison employees are allowed to be in the execution chamber, and in the Huntsville Unit in Texas only Christian and Muslim clerics are on staff.

“As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion—in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech—violates the Constitution,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. Because inmates of other religious denominations are provided with clerics, he wrote,  allowing Murphy to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser by his side in the death chamber infringes on his religious freedom.

The court’s decision on Murphy, a white man who converted to Buddhism, sharply contrasts with their decision regarding Domineque Ray, a black Muslim death row inmate who was recently executed in Alabama after the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in February to lift a stay granted by a federal court. Ray, who was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, argued that his religious rights were being violated because Alabama would not allow a Muslim cleric into the death chamber. Like Texas, Alabama only allows prison employees to be inside the chamber, but there are no others but Christian clerics on staff.

“Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the state puts him to death,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent. But the high court did not review the religious aspect of the case, instead it focused on a procedural issue, noting that the timing of the claim was too late for consideration—a charge the court’s liberal justices rejected.

Murphy is one of the last living members of a group known as the Texas Seven. One of the men died by suicide before he was arrested, and the rest were sentenced to death. Four of them have already been executed. In late 2000, Murphy and six other men, escaped from the Connally Unit in South Texas and went on a crime spree that ended on Christmas Eve. While several members of the group were robbing a sporting goods store, someone called the police. Murphy was outside in the getaway car when he spotted police officer Aubrey Hawkins responding to the call. Murphy radioed his accomplices urging them to leave the store. When the men came outside, five of them started shooting, killing Hawkins.

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Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe – Anil Ananthaswamy March 28, 2019


Stemming from the “F-theory” branch of string theory, each solution replicates key features of the standard model of particle physics

Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe
Credit: Getty Images

Physicists who have been roaming the “landscape” of string theory—the space of zillions and zillions of mathematical solutions of the theory, where each solution provides the kinds of equations physicists need to describe reality—have stumbled upon a subset of such equations that have the same set of matter particles as exists in our universe.

But this is no small subset: there are at least a quadrillion such solutions, making it the largest such set ever found in string theory.

According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are “compactified” so as to be undetectable.

Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.

Some string theorists have focused their efforts on trying to find ways to connect string theory to properties of our known, observable universe—particularly the standard model of particle physics, which describes all known particles and all their mutual forces except gravity.

Much of this effort has involved a version of string theory in which the strings interact weakly. However, in the past two decades, a new branch of string theory called F-theory has allowed physicists to work with strongly interacting, or strongly coupled, strings.

“An intriguing, surprising result is that when the coupling is large, we can start describing the theory very geometrically,” says Mirjam Cvetic of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

This means that string theorists can use algebraic geometry—which uses algebraic techniques to tackle geometric problems—to analyze the various ways of compactifying extra dimensions in F-theory and to find solutions. Mathematicians have been independently studying some of the geometric forms that appear in F-theory. “They provide us physicists a vast toolkit”, says Ling Lin, also of the University of Pennsylvania. “The geometry is really the key… it is the ‘language’ that makes F-theory such a powerful framework.”

Now, Cvetic, Lin, James Halverson of Northeastern University in Boston, and their colleagues have used such techniques to identify a class of solutions with string vibrational modes that lead to a similar spectrum of fermions (or, particles of matter) as is described by the standard model—including the property that all fermions come in three generations (for example, the electron, muon and tau are the three generations of one type of fermion).

The F-theory solutions found by Cvetic and colleagues have particles that also exhibit the handedness, or chirality, of the standard model particles. In particle physics lingo, the solutions reproduce the exact “chiral spectrum” of standard model particles. For example, the quarks and leptons in these solutions come in left and right-handed versions, as they do in our universe.

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THE DECRIMINALIZATION OF SEX WORK IS EDGING INTO THE 2020 CAMPAIGN – Aída Chávez March 29 2019


Activist groups gather at a Decrim NY rally in Foley Square on Feb. 25, 2019. Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

THERE ISN’T MUCH to recommend the current iteration of American presidential elections, which now begin some two years before the day voters go to the polls. One upside, though, is that it opens up policy conversations that are usually closed off. The result is the beginning of a public conversation about decriminalizing sex work.

Three Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination — Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — have weighed in on the rights of sex workers. Harris and Gabbard have said they support the decriminalization of sex work, while Sanders was noncommittal in his response. The mere fact that presidential candidates are being asked about sex work, however, represents a shift in the public discourse on the sex work community. Yet there’s a ways to go: The Intercept reached out to the other congressional Democrats running for president — Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — and got no response.

The sex workers’ rights movement was galvanized in 2018 in reaction to the passage of legislation known as SESTA-FOSTA, which purported to curb sex trafficking by holding online platforms legally liable for any content found to “knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking.” All congressional Democrats running for president voted for SESTA-FOSTA.

Passage of the law resulted in the shutdown of prominent personal ad sites and marketplaces, forcing sex workers to resort to working on the streets or with pimps. It also led sex workers, who often feel abandoned by the progressive left, to organize and ramp up their activism. The urgency of the situation is pushing advocates to define what they actually mean by “decriminalization” and to push for policy changes at state, local, and national levels. The organizing has produced the most results in New York, where activists working with lawmakers have launched a campaign to decriminalize sex work in the state, and it’s also created tensions around the Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement of Sanders for president.

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These Former New York Prosecutors Predict More Indictments Coming In Trumpworld (HBO)


The Mother Court. The Office. The Sovereign District of New York. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York takes on the most high-profile, high-pressure cases in the federal court system. What’s it like to work there? What does it mean for the Trump Organization to be in their sights? To answer these questions we found a pair of former SDNY prosecutors who are married and bought them Chinese food.

EPA Science Panel Considering Guidelines That Upend Basic Air Pollution Science – Rebecca Hersher March 28, 20196:34 PM ET


Smog filled Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in January 2017. Winter weather in the area often traps air pollution that is bad for public health. George Frey/Getty Images

Several members of a powerful science panel for the Environmental Protection Agency expressed doubt at a hearing Thursday about the long-established scientific consensus that air pollution can cause premature death.

The panel was meeting to consider recommendations that would fundamentally change how the agency analyzes the public health dangers posed by air pollution, and could lead to weaker regulation of soot.

The recommendations concern how the EPA regulates microscopic soot known as particulate matter, which causes and exacerbates respiratory diseases such as asthma. Determining exactly how much particulate matter is safe to breathe requires complex analysis of an enormous — and growing — body of scientific literature.

Before the EPA disbanded it last year, a 20-person subcommittee called the Particulate Matter Review Panel was responsible for helping the agency decide how much air pollution is safe for Americans to breathe. With that group gone, only the seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is left to make recommendations.

At a public meeting Thursday that ran nearly two hours long, multiple members of that committee, including Chair Tony Cox and Steven Packham of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said they do not agree that breathing air polluted with soot can lead to an early death.

“[Committee] members have varying opinions on the adequacy of the evidence supporting the EPA’s conclusion that there is a causal relationship between [particulate matter] exposure and mortality,” said Cox, reading from the committee’s draft recommendations before explaining that he is “actually appalled” at the lack of scientific evidence connecting particulate pollution to premature death.

“This is waving a red flag in front of a bull, so I acknowledge that,” Cox continued.

The draft recommendations would dramatically limit the breadth and depth of the science used to determine safe air pollution limits in the U.S. by pushing the EPA to limit the types of studies considered during the regulatory process.

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Smithsonian and top institutions under fire for accepting tobacco money – Jessica Glenza Last modified on Fri 29 Mar 2019 02.10 EDT


Some US museums continue taking tobacco donations even as others are rejecting funds from big pharma amid the opioid crisis

Researchers are questioning why some American museums accept tobacco donations, even as some review donation policies in light of the UK National Portrait Gallery recently rejecting a gift from the Sackler family, owner of Purdue Pharma who are the center of America’s devastating opioid crisis.

One of America’s most venerated institutions, the Smithsonian museum, which oversees the US National Portrait Gallery, has accepted donations from the US maker of Marlboro cigarettes as recently as 2017.

The Smithsonian is not alone. In 2018, Altria donated $3.6m to arts and culture institutions, a spokesman told the Guardian. The Newseum and the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC and New York’sAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater all accepted Altria funding that year, according to the latest available company documents.

In 2014, the Landmark Theater in Richmond, Virginia, also struck a sponsorship deal with Altria, and was renamed the “Altria Theater” in exchange for $10m from the tobacco company.

Dr Michael Siegel, a professor of health sciences at Boston University and an expert in tobacco marketing, said he was “shocked to even hear” the Smithsonian, among others, continued to accept donations from tobacco companies.

“I’m surprised to hear in 2017, or possibly now, that there are major institutions that are taking tobacco money it’s a surprise to me,” said Siegel. “If that was more widely known, there would be quite an outcry from people in the anti-tobacco movement.”

“When organizations accept money from big tobacco, they’re essentially allowing themselves to be used by pawns in the marketing strategy of big tobacco companies,” said Siegel. He continued that accepting donations from tobacco companies was “extremely egregious at this point in that game”.

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Ecuador legalized gangs. Murder rates plummeted. – Sigal Samuel Mar 26, 2019, 7:40am EDT


A stunningly successful experiment has the potential to upend the mainstream US approach to deviance.

Members of the Latin Kings gang pose in 1997 in New York City.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

In 2007, the crime-riddled nation of Ecuador did something surprising: It legalized the gangs that had been the source of much of the violence. Then something even more surprising happened over the next decade: Murder rates plummeted.

Ecuador’s approach to violence reduction is about as far away as you can get from America’s, which tends to criminalize gangs. To be clear, just being a member of a gang is not illegal. But because many gang members are known to engage in illegal activity, US law enforcement targets people it suspects of being members. It uses large gang databases (especially common in cities like New York and Chicago) to round up young people, often from poor communities of color. They may be deported or imprisoned for years. When we talk about criminalizing gangs, we’re talking about this punitive approach.

In Ecuador, the unprecedented decision to legalize gangs across the country was basically a decision to adopt the opposite attitude. The country allowed the gangs to remake themselves as cultural associations that could register with the government, which in turn allowed them to qualify for grants and benefit from social programming, just like everybody else.

This approach appealed to David Brotherton, a sociologist at the City University of New York who’s been arguing since the 1990s that US policy wrongly pathologizes gang members. So in 2017, a decade after Ecuador legalized gangs, he headed over there to conduct ethnographic research on major groups like the Latin Kings and Queens.

It turned out they’d undergone a stunning transformation. The members were still very active in their gangs, but these were functioning more like social movements or cultural groups. Previously violent Latin Kings were working in everything from catering to crime analysis. And they were collaborating with other gangs they’d warred with in the past.

Brotherton is preparing to head back to Ecuador for the next phase of his multi-year research, which will focus on a gang called Masters of the Street. He just won a Guggenheim Foundation grant in support of that work, which is how I learned about it. What he’s discovered has the potential to upend the mainstream US approach to deviance.

I spoke to Brotherton about what he saw on the ground in Ecuador and whether he thinks that model can work in other Latin American countries and even in the US. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

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The Fungi Decimating Amphibians Is Worse Than We Thought – MATT SIMON SCIENCE 03.28.19 02:00 PM


Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

For nearly 400 million years, amphibians have led a highly successful double life on Earth, foraging on terra and reproducing in water. They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and any number of other worldwide catastrophes, but they’ve never seen a catastrophe quite like humanity. Already stressed by habitat degradation and the wildlife trade, amphibians are now reckoning with the chytrid fungi, pathogens that humans have spread the world over.

Scientists knew the microbes were bad news—the two separate species of fungi infect an amphibian’s skin, disrupting its ability to breathe and absorb water—but they didn’t know just how bad it might be. That changes today with the publication of the most thorough quantification of the chytrid scourge yet. Previous tallies estimated that the fungi had caused the decline of 200 amphibian species, but this study puts that number at over 500—and that’s a conservative estimate—of which 90 are now presumed extinct. Which makes this the greatest loss of biodiversity from a disease that science has ever known, the authors say.

The good news in all of this, though: By reviewing mountains of both published and unpublished data, the team of more than 40 international scientists has determined that die-offs due to chytrid fungi likely peaked in the 1980s. And by gathering ever more data, scientists are building a better understanding of these pathogens, and how we might stop them before the 400-million-year reign of the amphibians comes crashing down.

“While many individual studies have been published, this is the first time we’ve had a global snapshot” of the crisis, says amphibian biologist Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It’s a little like a ‘global state of the amphibians’ in that respect.”

Data on the chytrid problem has been sparse because these are at once highly mysterious and highly predictable pathogens. They’re predictable in that they don’t care what amphibian they infect—if it’s got the skin of an amphibian, it’s vulnerable. But they’re unpredictable because the fungi don’t affect all species equally.

For one, chytrid fungi don’t care for salty water, so amphibians that live in saline wetlands can more easily clear their infections. Two, an amphibian’s skin is crawling with a complex range of microbes, just like our skin, only wetter. “Some of those have been shown to inhibit chytrid fungus or to even kill it,” says Australian National University ecologist Ben Scheele, lead author on the new paper in Science. “And some frog species also have secretions that appear to kill chytrid fungus.” Three, the fungi don’t threaten a species in isolation—the animal could also be stressed by pollution and other forms of habitat degradation.

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The Republican Party Has an Older Voters Problem – By Eric Levitz@EricLevitz March 2019


The blue-graying of America? Photo: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Voting Republican has become an activity analogous to watching an episode of Matlock with a tall glass of Metamucil: ordinary for the elderly, but a marker of eccentricity among the young.

In 2016, Donald Trump commanded the support of only 28 percent of voters under 30, according to Pew Research. His disapproval rating among Americans under 35 currently hovers around 70 percent. And millennials’ antipathy for our Republican president isn’t personal; the Fox News grandpa-in-chief might be especially unappealing to the rising generation, but the kids don’t have much use for the GOP’s kinder, gentler reactionaries, either. Less than 30 percent of millennials wanted Republicans to retain control of Congress last year. And in broader measures of generational opinion, both millennials and Gen-Zers evince higher levels of support for liberal ideological premises and policy proposals than any older cohorts.

This trend — and the challenges it poses for the Republican Party — have been widely discussed. And some conservative pundits have found comfort in the fact that, as millennials have moved left, graying baby-boomers have shuffled right. This might be a lousy trade in the long run (since, in the long run, boomers will all be dead). But in the immediate term, the GOP has derived a good deal of benefit from age polarization, as older voters cast ballots at much higher rates than the young ones do.

And yet, the Republicans’ growing reliance on seniors poses challenges of its own. Put simply, it’s difficult to be the party that’s hell-bent on shrinking the welfare state when your core voters are the welfare state’s primary beneficiaries. In recent years, the GOP has managed to finesse this tension by slow-walking its ambitions for entitlement spending, baldly lying about the Democratic Party’s position on entitlements, and portraying all other transfer programs as a threat to older Americans’ hard-earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.

But America’s deepening retirement crisis is eroding the efficacy of this gambit. And that’s a big problem for the GOP — since, as millennials’ share of the electorate steadily grows, it will be all the more imperative for Republicans to maintain landslide margins among seniors.

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