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Power Substations Across the Country Keep Getting Attacked. What Gives?

A Homeland Security report warned that extremist groups have identified the electric grid as a “particularly attractive target.”

Two men in hard hats and a bunch of pipe/electric infrastructure looking things
Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A view of the substation while work is in progress as tens of thousands were without power after an attack on two Duke Electric substations in Carthage, North Carolina, December 5

There have been at least 14 attacks on power stations across the country this year.

On December 3, two North Carolina power stations were struck with gunfire, leading to some 40,000 residents being without power, many of them for days.

Since mid-November, Oregon’s and western Washington’s electrical grids have been host to six attacks—some led by people with firearms—leaving customers experiencing brief outages in both states.

And in September, substations in Florida were targeted six times, with intruders forcing entry and tripping equipment that caused brief outages.

Federal agencies are becoming increasingly concerned amid the string of attacks. On December 2, the FBI co-issued a memo warning utilities about the attacks. North Carolina’s stations were attacked just a day later.

At the end of November, the Department of Homeland Security warned that “lone offenders and small groups” were continuing “to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland,” including on U.S. “critical infrastructure.”

In January, The Daily Beast obtained an earlier DHS intelligence report warning that extremist groups identified the “electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors.”

And earlier this month, CNN obtained a 14-page document circulating on Telegram that included a white supremacist instruction guide for how to conduct low-technology attacks that foment chaos, including attacking a power grid with firearms.

“When the lights don’t come back on … all hell will break lose [sic], making conditions desirable for our race to once again take back what is ours,” the document reads.

In February, three men pleaded guilty of plotting to attack substations with firearms; the trio were alleged white supremacists who had for years strategized how to incite civil unrest, a potential race war, and subsequently the second Great Depression.

The infrastructure connecting the nation is under increasingly high threat. And if enough light isn’t shined on what’s going on, we may soon lose that light, literally.

Oregon Governor Commutes Sentences of Everyone on Death Row

In her final weeks in office, Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the death penalty “immoral” and commuted sentences for all 17 inmates on death row.

Kate Brown
Meg Roussos/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Oregon Governor Kate Brown

On Tuesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced the state will be commuting the sentences of all 17 people on death row in the state, moving them instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people—even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown’s action pushes forward with moratoriums first established by her Democratic predecessor, John Kitzhaber, in 2011.

“I also recognize the pain and uncertainty victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row—especially in states with moratoriums on executions—without resolution. My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”

Brown’s decision, made as she prepares to depart office after being term-limited, follows a growing opposition to the death penalty. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have abolished the death penalty, while two others, California and Pennsylvania, have governor-issued moratoriums, as Oregon previously had. The death penalty is still legal in 27 states, including the states with moratoriums.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 17 people have been executed in 2022, all in Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, as of November 29. And as of April 1, over 2,400 people are on death row.

“The death penalty is immoral. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably,” Brown said.

Counterprotesters in Texas Turned an Attack on a Drag Show Into a Giant Party

LGBTQ activists and allies showed up to counterprotest a far-right attack in San Antonio, and their numbers were so big that one reporter said it became an “open air party.”

The Washington Post/Getty Images
Members of Taylor Pride march in a Christmas parade on December 3 in Taylor, Texas.

LGBTQ activists and allies in San Antonio, Texas, turned a far-right attack on a drag show into an open-air party.

On Tuesday night, armed members of “This Is Texas Freedom Force,” which the FBI calls an “extremist militia group,” protested outside San Antonio’s Aztec Theatre as it hosted a drag show.

The protesters carried signs reading “Stop Groomers and Pedos,” while members of the San Antonio Family Association were also in attendance, waving signs reading “Marriage = Husband + Wife,” and “Honk for Marriage.”

But counterprotesters showed up in even bigger numbers on Tuesday, and according to Texas Observer reporter Steven Monacelli, they turned the night into a giant party.

A November report from GLAAD found that drag events faced at least 124 significant threats, just this year. Last week, another San Antonio venue, The Starlighter, canceled drag events for the rest of year due to safety threats and harassment.

Many of the far-right protesters on Tuesday came bearing arms, and so too did the counterprotesters, including a military veteran who sported a “FCK NZS” patch on his vest as he sought to support LGBTQ people.

In a basic sense, it’s obviously disheartening to see people take up arms against one other. No less while one side—whether by forced delusion from profiteering right-wing hacks or their own entrenched reactionary views—seeks to strip away fundamental civil rights from people.

On the other hand, the manner in which masses showed up to defend those whose rights are under attack is animating.

This kind of protest—one that presents a rejection of the restrictive and angry nature of reactionary conservatism—is profound. The counterprotesters, in their “open air party” allyship, showcased what can come from sharing compassion and love and radical empathy with people. That kind of joy can maintain a movement and can perhaps welcome others to join, even those who may have been seen as “too far gone.”

Twitter Has Suspended the Account Tracking Elon Musk’s Private Jet

The popular @ElonJet account was suspended from the social media platform, days after the account's owner said he was being shadowbanned.

Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Twitter account tracking Elon Musk’s private jet has been suspended, a month after Musk had promised not to ban the profile in the name of “free speech.”

Jack Sweeney, who ran the jet tracker, had told Business Insider on Sunday that his account had already been “shadowbanned,” meaning its visibility had been restricted. As of Wednesday, the account was fully removed.

Since Musk—a self-described “free speech absolutist,” except, apparently, when it comes to jokes at his expense—took over Twitter, multiple accounts have been banned for a variety of reasons.

Several comedians and actors were suspended for mocking the Tesla founder, while a few prominent liberal accounts were blocked (and ultimately reinstated) for no apparent reason.

But other forms of free speech have abounded under Musk. In the 12 hours alone following his chaotic Twitter takeover, use of the n-word increased almost 500 percent, according to the National Contagion Research Institute.

A report released Tuesday by Media Matters and GLAAD found that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, particularly use of the word “groomer,” has shot up since Musk took the reins in October. Nine well-known anti-LGBTQ accounts saw a 1,200 percent increase in retweets of posts using the slur.

Meanwhile, mentions of a prominent pro-LGBTQ account in tweets using the slur rose more than 225,000 percent.

And Musk has restored accounts previously suspended for propagating violence, including former President Donald Trump and neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin.

Twitter has also dropped its Covid-19 misinformation regulations, and on Monday night dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, the independent advisory group formed in 2016 to address issues on the platform including hate speech, violence, and abuse.

It would seem Twitter is becoming less of a free speech haven and more of a “free-for-all hellscape”...which Musk also promised would not happen.

We Spoke to the Congressman Singing Rihanna on the House Floor for Climate

On FERC, self-imposed “cringe,” and an essential but lesser-known arena for climate policy.

Bill Casten is seated and laughing
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sean Casten has no shame when it comes to climate advocacy.

In fact, the Illinois representative spent his Tuesday morning singing praises for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to the tune of Rihanna’s “Work.”

“To my colleagues in the Senate, the eyes of the nation in this chamber are on you, we will never, no never, neglect you. We do not hold your past against you,” Casten urged the Senate, to a rhythm that would make Lin Manuel-Miranda blush. “But you need to get it done, done, done, done, done, done.”

“Mr. Speaker, what else can I say, I’m trying babe,” Casten finished, yielding to presiding Speaker Pat Ryan.

FERC oversees much of the energy sector, including interstate electricity transmission, hydroelectric project licensing, and natural gas and oil pipeline projects. Casten—who beat a six-term Republican incumbent in his district in 2018—was seeking to bring attention to the Senate failing to renominate FERC’s fifth commissioner, Chairman Richard Glick.

Biden had set a previous goal of a zero-carbon pollution power sector by 2035, and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, something the Inflation Reduction Act puts America on track to approach. Massive electricity generation, transmission, and storage are needed to attain such goals. Without a fully-staffed FERC, it’ll be hard to meet them.

The danger is if any FERC decisions related to the energy transition are split 2-2, Casten told The New Republic. “The things that we’re trying to do, that capital markets are trying to do, to give us cleaner, more reliable, more efficient energy are now going to be stalled just for a bureaucratic reason because we didn’t appoint a commissioner. It’s an own-goal.”

“A deadlocked FERC would eliminate up to 80 percent of the emissions reductions created by the IRA,” Casten noted in his musical remarks Tuesday.

For months, the fate of Glick’s renomination has been up in the air. Senator Joe Manchin, who has enjoyed millions of dollars from coal companies he founded, chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee tasked with conducting hearings with FERC nominees. Thus far, the senator has refused to hold a hearing.

In March, Manchin did call a hearing, but only to reprimand Glick and the commission’s Democrats for requiring more information from natural gas projects about their economic justification and environmental impacts. And Manchin was further incensed after President Biden last month called to shut down coal-powered energy plants.

Manchin, who has spent months lobbying for permitting reform that would—beyond clearing the path for a natural gas pet project in his own state—ostensibly promote construction of new electrical transmission lines, is hindering the staffing of the agency that would oversee that reform. He moreover threatens the timely execution of the IRA, one of Biden’s most signature accomplishments.

Last year, Casten led a #HotFERCSummer campaign featuring House floor renditions inspired by Megan Thee Stallion, Fergie, and Dolly Parton to advocate for FERC-related legislation and to fill a previously empty FERC seat, which was completed in November 2021.

And his advocacy continues.

“Having had some degree of success to break the deadlock last time—just at the expense of humiliating myself on the House floor—I thought we’d try to do it again and cringe it up and do some more dad jokes and see if we can strike lightning twice.”

Biden Signs Landmark Bill Protecting Same-Sex Marriage

The president officially signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects same-sex and interracial marriage.

Joe biden signs a bill at a table with the presidential seal.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a historic bill enshrining the right to marriage equality into law.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which applies to both same-sex and interracial marriage, would require that two people be considered married so long as their marriage was legal in the state in which it was performed. The act also repeals a 1996 law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which has remained on the books despite being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2015.

Many civil rights activists had warned that after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, same-sex marriage may be next on the chopping block.

About 2,000-3,000 people attended the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, according to spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre. The event opened with a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. The singers wore silver sequin scarves and sang “Harmony’s Never Too Late,” an original piece.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer highlighted how personal the bill is for him, as his daughter and her wife are expecting their first child. “Yes, this is about making life better for millions of LGBTQ Americans…but it’s also [for] the countless children and families who will be protected by this bill,” he said.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the numerous wins for the LGBTQ community over the years, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the end of her first term as speaker.

Musicians Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper performed their respective songs “Stay With Me” and “True Colors.” Lauper opened her song by saying, “This time, love wins,” and punctuated the grand finale calling out, “Power to all the people.”

Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, one of the seven couples who sued the state of Massachusetts for marriage equality in 2001, gave a speech celebrating how much progress has been made but acknowledging how much farther there is to go.

Gina Nortonsmith, left, and Heidi Nortonsmith, plaintiffs for Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, speak during a ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act, on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.
Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Finally, Biden stepped up to the podium. He thanked all the activists and members of the LGBTQ community whose work helped bring the legislation to pass.

“It’s one thing for the Supreme Court to rule on a case,” he said. “But it’s another thing entirely for the elected representatives of the people to take a vote on the floor of the United States Congress and say loudly and clearly, love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice. These things are fundamental things that America thinks matter.”

Biden also warned about the “extreme” Supreme Court, which rolled back the nationwide right to abortion and has threatened to do more. He decried the attacks on spaces that affirm gender and sexual orientation.

The House of Representatives voted 258-169 last week to pass the final bill to Biden’s desk. At least two Republican House members, Representatives Vicky Hartzler and Glenn Thompson, voted against the bill despite having LGBTQ family members.* Thompson had also voted against an earlier version of the bill this summer, just three days before attending his son’s same-sex wedding.

The Senate voted 61-36 two weeks ago to pass the bill. One of its opponents was Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is in an interracial marriage.

Critics of the bill have said, though, that it does not go far enough with LGBTQ protections. Part of the amendment says that religious organizations do not have to marry same-sex couples, which would allow groups to continue to be homophobic, and the bill does not require all states to actually issue same-sex marriage licenses.

* This article originally misstated the voting records of Hartzler and Thompson.

Rail Workers in 11 States and D.C. Rally After Forced Labor Deal With No Sick Days

The workers are calling on Biden to take executive action on paid sick leave for the rail industry.

Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Union activists and workers’ rights groups protest to demand sick pay and union rights for rail workers, at Grand Central Terminal in New York on December 7.

Masses of rail workers across the country are rallying Tuesday in efforts to draw the public attention toward their demands, including giving rail workers paid sick days, after President Joe Biden signed legislation imposing a labor deal on workers.

Rallies are taking place in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.

“We demand that Biden sign an Executive Order that he apparently has the capacity to do and allow for 7 days sick time for RR workers like other Government contractors. Done, end of story,” a spokesperson for the Railroad Workers United labor caucus said in a statement to The New Republic. “Why not? And if he refuses, he owes us an explanation for sure.”

Workers are also asking for two-person crews on all trains and eliminating what’s known as “precision-scheduled railroading.”

Precision-scheduled railroading, or, as workers sometimes dub it, “positive shareholder reaction,” manages freight movement by the individual car level, as opposed to the whole train—ensuring train cars are constantly on the move. In practice, this has cut jobs, consolidated dispatch centers, and made trains less safe, as fewer workers have less time to conduct checks on even more train cars.

The rallies come after 72 members of Congress, led by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, published a letter outlining how Biden could “guarantee rail workers the seven sick days that they desperately need through executive action.”

The letter followed Biden’s decision to impose a labor contract on workers, in an ostensible effort to avoid a national rail strike.

Despite Biden’s cave to railroad companies, these 72 members of Congress are not relenting.

“We are going to continue to fight. We are going to continue to organize. And we’re going to continue to make sure that labor—the workers who create the wealth for these companies—get their fair share of that wealth,” Bowman bellowed at the Washington, D.C., rally.

“We have corporations making record profits,” Bowman continued. “We allow them as many stock buybacks as they want. But we continue to give workers and labor the short end of the stick.… That’s bullshit.”

Three Things to Know About the Inflation Report

Inflation cooled in November, according to a new report released by the Labor Department. Let’s put that in context.

People shop for bread at a supermarket in Monterey Park, California, on October 19. In the year through November, grocery prices rose 12 percent, according to data released by the U.S. government.

The consumer price index, or CPI, a key government measure of inflation, indicates that inflation finally seems to be slowing a bit, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The index measures the monthly change in prices paid by U.S. consumers for specific goods.

Here are three things to know about the inflation report, and what it might mean looking forward.

1. It has some of the the lowest increases in almost a year.

Prices rose 7.1 percent in November compared to a year earlier. This is a big slowdown from October, which saw a 7.7 percent increase compared to the previous year, and the smallest yearlong increase since December 2021.

It may seem counterintuitive to celebrate a 7.1 percent increase, but overall, prices in November rose just 0.1 percent from the previous month.

Removing the price increases for food and energy, which are always volatile, even before the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, prices rose 0.2 percent in November. This is the smallest monthly increase since August 2021.

2. But inflation remains high in key areas.

A big contributing factor in the low price increases was energy. Prices for gasoline, natural gas, and electricity fell 1.6 percent from October.

But prices for food and shelter increased. In fact, they went up the most of any sector. Costs for groceries and eating out went up 0.5 percent, and housing costs rose 0.6 percent.

3. Will it affect the Federal Reserve’s decision on Wednesday?

The Federal Reserve begins its policy-setting meeting Tuesday and is expected to announce a 0.5 percent increase in interest rates. The new CPI report is unlikely to affect that decision any further, according to Dean Baker, the senior economist at the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

“The Fed is always worried about pulling surprises,” he explained.

The U.S. central bank is scrambling to achieve a so-called soft landing, or a decrease in inflation without tipping the economy into a recession. The labor market has remained strong overall, causing concerns that the economy has not slowed sufficiently to avoid a downturn. But Baker says a soft landing is “definitely” still possible.

“It is now indisputable that inflation has slowed sharply, without a big rise in unemployment,” he said. “It is not clear yet that it is at a rate that the Fed considers acceptable, but the rate clearly is much lower than it was earlier in 2022.”

Brad Sherman Tears Into FTX, Calls Cryptocurrency a “Garden of Snakes”

Representative Sherman said the problem isn’t just FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. The problem is all of crypto.

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Representative Brad Sherman

During the long-awaited congressional hearings on FTX’s collapse on Tuesday, Democratic Representative Brad Sherman wasted no time making his stance clear on the crypto industry, nor on Sam Bankman-Fried’s role within it.

“My fear is that we will view Sam Bankman-Fried as just one big snake in a crypto Garden of Eden. The fact is, crypto is a garden of snakes,” said Sherman, the only House member to receive an “F” from crypto advocacy group Crypto Action Network.

“Is there a big advantage that crypto has over the U.S. dollar if it actually became a currency, which it’s not yet?” Sherman posed. “Well, there are drug dealers, human traffickers, sanctions evaders who will find that to be a good feature. And as Sam Bankman-Fried would tell you, there’s a hell of a market for bankruptcy court evasion. But the big market is tax evasion. And I know there are some on the other side who cheer every time a billionaire escapes taxes.”

Moving from broader critiques of the industry, Sherman then focused on Bankman-Fried. “Now, Sam Bankman-Fried, or should I say inmate 14372, had one purpose in all of his efforts here in Congress … to keep the SEC out of crypto. To provide a patina of regulation, baby regulation, from the CFTC,” Sherman continued, before addressing his colleagues.

“I have one comment for my colleagues: Don’t trash Sam Bankman-Fried and then pass his bill,” he added, referring to bipartisan-backed legislation pushing for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to become the primary regulator overseeing crypto, rather than the Securities Exchange Commission. The former would oversee crypto with less scrutiny than the latter.

“I fear that could happen, because Sam was not the only crypto bro with PACs and lobbyists—and there is no PAC or lobbyist here to work for efficient tax enforcement, or sanctions enforcement.”

Sherman closed with a focus on Republicans, citing a letter signed by 19 Republican members that was “attacking the SEC for paying attention to, and I quote, the purported risks of digital assets,” and comments from eight members “that were designed to attack the SEC as being a Luddite and anti innovation for their efforts.”

While Republicans—and some Democrats—will assert that Bankman-Fried and company were simply bad apples, Sherman continues earning his F from crypto advocacy groups, bashing all who try to defend it and its proven potential for massive fraud.

Who Is Ralph Norman? More on the Congressman Who Wanted Trump to Invoke “Marshall Law”

After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, the South Carolina representative texted then–White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about efforts to overturn the results.

Brian Babin
Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images

On Monday, Talking Points Memo reported on at least 34 Republican members of Congress who exchanged text messages with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

One message in particular stuck out for its illustration of how blatant these efforts were and, perhaps too, how dumb they were.

On January 17, 2021, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina texted Meadows:

“Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of � no return � in saving our Republic!! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO.”

Beyond appearing to be a seditionist, Norman seems to think “martial law” is spelled like “Marshall”—similar to messages released previously between Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Meadows, in which she wrote: “In our private chat with only Members, several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for Marshall law.” Perhaps Norman just copied and pasted the spelling from the world’s worst possible group chat.

But who is Ralph Norman?

In 2018, while meeting with members from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Norman placed his loaded handgun on a table during the conversation to prove “guns don’t shoot people; people shoot guns,” making the activists feel unsafe.

At an election debate in 2018, Norman joked about the sexual assault allegations against then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news on the Kavanaugh hearings? Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”

In 2019, Norman led the charge to try reinstating Representative Steve King to his committee assignments, after King had made one of his career’s many racist comments and asked when “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” became offensive language.

Norman was also one of 126 House Republicans who signed onto a lawsuit contesting the 2020 election results.

In February 2021, Norman and 12 other Republican House members skipped votes, citing Covid-19; instead, they were all happily attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. Norman, the agent of the personal responsibility party that he is, blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for apparently changing “the voting to interfere with CPAC.”

In June 2021, Norman was one of 21 House Republicans who voted against giving honors to officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. That same month, he was one of 14 House Republicans who voted against establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. And in July 2021, he was one of just five Republicans who voted against appropriations for granting visas to Afghan allies and enhancing Capitol security.

Norman has repeatedly criticized President Biden for forgiving student loan debtors; Norman himself—with a net worth of over $20 million—had at least $306,520 of PPP loans forgiven.

Based on his history, Norman is the perfect example of someone who’d throw whatever integrity he did have on the line for an individual like Donald Trump.