“We value guns, flags and fake acts of patriotism over people, pain”

Sandy Hook mom speaks on the latest mass shooting

After the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, which has already claimed the lives of 50 people and injured more than 400 more, Nelba Márquez-Greene, mother of Ana Márquez-Greene, a 6-year-old girl who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, is sounding off on Twitter in a series of remarkable and heartbreaking comments that puts the blame for yet another mass shooting directly on the shoulders of Congress.

She also wants to know why we don’t confront the true reality that the majority of mass shootings are committed by angry, white men.

Marquez-Greene noted roughly 91 people per day from from guns in the United States and we do nothing.

Can you imagine if ISIS were killing 91 people per day? Ebola? It would be a national emergency and we would commit every single resource we had to stopping the tragedy. Instead, we have a Republican Congress that not only rolled back an Obama administration law making it more difficult for mentally ill people to get guns, they are (or were) going to vote this week to make it easier to purchase gun silencers! You can purchase a gun silencer in the United States by completely a background check and Republicans want to get rid of the background check requirement. How is that helping people in this country?

In a series of 22 tweets, Nelba Márquez-Greene tells it like it is—Congress needs to stop ignoring the grieving mothers and families from every single zip code in this country. They should’ve taken action to protect the life and liberty of all citizens long before now. How many mass shootings will it take?

Attacks in Havana hit US spy network in Cuba…

VIA

Frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana struck the heart of America’s spy network in Cuba, with intelligence operatives among the first and most severely affected victims, The Associated Press has learned.

It wasn’t until U.S. spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.

While the attacks started within days of President Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The U.S. has called the situation “ongoing.”

To date, the Trump administration largely has described the 21 victims as U.S. embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community.” That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting U.S.-Cuban relations.

Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.

The State Department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.

The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half century.

But the U.S. soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.

Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.

Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.

In many of the more recent cases, victims didn’t hear noises and weren’t aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.

Though the State Department has called all the cases “medically confirmed,” several U.S. officials said it’s unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it’s possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.

Almost nothing about what has transpired in Havana is perfectly clear. But this is Cuba.

For decades, Washington and Havana pushed their rivalry to unprecedented levels of covert action. The former enemies tracked each other’s personnel, turned each other’s agents and, in the case of the CIA, even mounted a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion.

There were hopes, though, that the two nations were starting to put that bitter history behind them after renewing diplomatic relations in 2015. When the attacks first occurred, the U.S. and Cuban governments were hard at work on clinching new commercial and immigration agreements. No new spat among intelligence services was publicly known.

Eleven months on, the U.S. cannot guarantee the threat is over. Last week, the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The U.S. had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.

For those staying and new arrivals, the U.S. has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. They’re also learning steps to take if an attack occurs that could mitigate the risk, officials said.

But the U.S. has not identified whatever device is responsible for the harm. FBI sweeps have turned up nothing.

So to better identify patterns, investigators have created a map detailing specific areas of Cuba’s capital where attacks have occurred, several individuals familiar with the matter said. Three “zones,” or geographic clusters of attacks, cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.

Since first disclosing the situation in August, the United States had generally avoided the word “attacks.” It called them “incidents” instead until last Friday. Now, the State Department deems them “specific attacks” targeting Americans posted in Havana, without saying what new information, if any, prompted the newfound confidence they were indeed deliberate.

The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. If that’s the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.

Last week’s embassy drawdown added to the growing friction between the nations. And an accompanying new travel warning deemed Havana’s hotels unsafe for visitors, threatening to drive down tourism, a backbone of Cuba’s economy.

In Havana, American diplomats are frantically selling off possessions — from mattresses to canned goods to children’s toys — and hunting for jobs and places to live in the United States. Many have spent years overseas and don’t have homes waiting for them in the United States.

“Heartbroken? Me too, but this will make you feel better,” one seller posted in a chatroom for foreigners in Cuba, under a picture of a Costco artichoke hearts jar selling for $6.

For Cubans, it may be no better. The U.S. has been providing 20,000 visas a year to Cubans moving to the United States. It has issued thousands more to Cubans wishing to visit family in America. The reduction in U.S. staff in Havana means visa processing there has been suspended indefinitely.

Cuba has vehemently denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. Some in the U.S. government believe the Cubans may be telling the truth, officials said.

When President Raul Castro denied any culpability in February, he did so on the sidelines a meeting in Havana with five visiting U.S. members of Congress, the AP found. The U.S. had raised complaints about the attacks to Cuba just days earlier through diplomatic channels.

But the visiting lawmakers knew nothing of the attacks taking place in the country they were visiting.

Nor did they know that Castro had used the occasion of their meeting to pull aside Jeff DeLaurentis, then the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, to say privately that his government was equally alarmed and willing to help.

The lawmakers all declined to comment. Cuban officials say they’re disappointed in the U.S. retaliatory measures but will continue cooperating with the investigation.

3 key questions Puerto Rico faces in it’s recovery…

VIA

It’s been two-and-a-half days since Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico, slamming the island of more than 3.5 million people with torrential rains, winds, and flooding the likes of which haven’t been seen in nearly a century. The latest reports indicate that at least six people have been killed in Puerto Rico (and 27 total throughout the Caribbean) as a result of the storm, but that figure is likely to rise as authorities make their way through areas still cut off from communications and rescue operations, according to the Associated Press. As of Friday, much of the island was still without power and working cell phone networks; El Nuevo Dia, one of Puerto Rico’s main news organizations, is reporting that dozens of municipalities are still “incommunicado.” Carlos Mercader, the Washington, D.C.-based representative of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, says that there are likely more municipalities still cut off, and that authorities still don’t know the full scope of the damage, noting that even he can’t get in touch with his parents who live in the western part of the island. “That whole west side is totally compromised in terms of communication,” he tells Mother Jones. Meanwhile, Guajataca Dam in the northwestern part of the island suffered a “failure,” according to the National Weather Service, causing the evacuation of at least 10,000 people in the area, Mercader says.

Here we look ahead at what’s next for the island.

What is the latest with the federal response?

President Trump signed a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on Thursday, paving the way for federal support for things such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs, loans for uninsured property losses, and other federal programs. Making matters more complicated is Puerto Rico’s dire financial situation. Jennifer González-Colón, the island’s non-voting representative to Congress, sent a letter to the president that same day asking that he waive FEMA’s cost-sharing requirements, which typically requires a 25 percent match from local jurisdictions.

The federal government began flying supplies in to Puerto Rico on Thursday morning, including water, helicopters, trucks, and equipment to clear the roads, Mercader says. On Friday morning, after a request from Gov. Rosselló, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo assembled a relief flight that included large-scale generators, 34,000 bottles of water, 10,000 ready-to-eat meals, along with thousands of cots and blankets, according to CNBC. Rosselló told MSNBC Friday that all supplies were being coordinated through a logistics center and will then be distributed through 12 zones on the island, the New York Times reports.

The US Department of Energy reported as of 4 p.m. ET Friday that all of the island’s major ports were closed and that the US Postal Service had closed all of its facilities.

How long will it take to restore power?

The Department of Energy report noted that nearly all of the 1.57 million power customers on the island were without power, and “all generation assets are believed to be offline.” Local authorities have estimated that it could take four to six months to fully restore power across the island. Mercader says that FEMA, in coordination with local authorities, is working to get electricity and communications back up as quickly as possible, but the process could still take weeks.

“We just spoke to someone on the ground from one of the agencies that has war experience, and he says [it’s like] a war zone, [similar to] when he served in Afghanistan,” Mercader says. “We are saying that the devastation is total. It’s complete devastation.”

New York Power Authority CEO Gil Quiniones also traveled to Puerto Rico with a 10-person team, including drone operators, to help assess the damage to the island’s main electricity provider, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which was already reeling under billions in debt and years of deferred maintenance due to the inability to fund it. PREPA Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said Thursday that the company would not begin normal operations until at least Monday “in an effort to avoid jeopardizing the safety of its employees.”

PREPA already suffered $400 million in damages from Hurricane Irma in early September.

How will this impact the ongoing fiscal crisis?

Puerto Rico, in the midst of a 10-year economic downturn and dealing with structural colonial economic issues, was already reeling financially. With more than $120 billion in outstanding debt and pension obligations, the island sought to restructure debts under a law signed by President Obama in 2016. The 2016 law allowed the island’s government to seek a form of bankruptcy earlier this year, created a financial review board that would manage the island’s spending and, theoretically, work out debt repayment arrangements with the island’s creditors. So far, as Slate wrote Friday, the board has cut public spending by 30 percent, closed many schools, and lowered the minimum wage for younger workers.

Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño told Politico that any plans made between the governor and the fiscal control board were based on assumptions that were “out the window now,” and that there was “no way” the governor was going to be able to hit the budget set by the board. The board did allow Rosselló to reallocate $1 billion for emergency response efforts, Politico notes, and told the governor that it would “expeditiously approve” additional budget issues that come up as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Members of Congress are already discussing aid packages for Puerto Rico. But there are also fears that hedge funds will use the crisis as a means to further push privatization on the island, and that unless Congress steps up with a package that truly helps, the island’s residents and union workers will lose out.

“Now the island will need massive infusions of captial to rebuild,” David Dayen writes in the American Prospect. “The hedge funds have the wealth to provide it, and have reaped more than enough profit from the picked carcass of Puerto Rico that they can easily afford to give something back … The hard-hearted business decsison to capitalize on suffering isn’t likely to soften now.”