Van Dyke ends effort to overturn McDonald murder conviction

The former Chicago police officer imprisoned for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald has ended an effort to overturn his conviction

CHICAGO — The former Chicago police officer imprisoned for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald on Friday ended an effort to overturn his conviction.

An Illinois appellate court allowed Jason Van Dyke to withdraw his appeal, meaning he will serve out his sentence without further court proceedings.

Van Dyke’s attorney filed a motion with the court Sept. 29, 2020, asking that his appeal be dropped. Attorney Jennifer Blagg said Van Dyke decided to withdraw his appeal because he is trying to move on with his life.

“He thought it was in the best interest of all the parties involved, including the McDonald family, that there be some finality,” Blagg said.

Van Dyke was convicted in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in McDonald’s killing. He was sentenced to six years, nine months in prison.

Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon was appointed special prosecutor in the Van Dyke case.

“Mr. Van Dyke’s decision prevents additional years of litigation, bringing finality to the thorough prosecution of this case in which his rights were protected and justice was served,” McMahon said in a statement.

McMahon and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appealed Van Dyke’s sentence, contending it didn’t match the severity of the crime. The Illinois Supreme Court last year let the sentence stand, offering no explanation of its decision.

Van Dyke shot McDonald in October 2014 as the 17-year-old walked away from police on a Southwest Side street while holding a knife. Video of Van Dyke firing 16 shots at McDonald prompted protests, a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department and the firing of the police superintendent, among other changes.


California fire investigators seize utility equipment

Pacific Gas & Electric is reporting that fire investigators have seized some of its equipment as they investigate the cause of a Northern California wildfire that killed four people last month

SAN FRANCISCO — Fire investigators looking into what caused a wildfire that killed four people in far Northern California have taken possession of equipment belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility reported Friday.

PG&E said in a filing with the Public Utilities Commission that investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection seized some of its electrical equipment near where the Zogg Fire started Sept. 27.

The fire erupted in Shasta County during high winds and quickly grew, killing four people in the tiny community of Igo. It later spread to neighboring Tehama County. As of Friday it had scorched 88 square miles (nearly 228 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 200 buildings, about half of them homes. It was almost fully contained Friday.

The utility said it does not have access to the evidence collected by Cal Fire, which has yet to determine a cause for the fire.

It added that the area where the fire started is served by a PG&E distribution line that reported trouble the day the blaze ignited.

Customers in the area where the fire started, near Zogg Mine Road and Jenny Bird Lane north of Igo, are served by a 12,000-volt circuit. On the day the Zogg Fire began its automated equipment in the area “reported alarms and other activity between approximately 2:40 p.m. and 3:06 p.m.,” PG&E told regulators. The line was then de-activated.

PG&E, the nation’s largest utility, recently emerged from bankruptcy caused by financial fallout from several devastating wildfires caused by its utility equipment that destroyed more than 27,000 homes and other buildings in 2017 and 2018 and killed more than 100 people.

PG&E said in a statement that it is cooperating with the investigation.

“We recognize the tragic losses sustained as a result of this year’s fire season and are thankful, as always, for the efforts of the first responders who have worked tirelessly to contain the fires and protect the lives and property of California residents,” the statement said.


Kenobi Writer Developing Space Mountain Movie for Disney

In the tradition of Disney making movies based on its attractions, next on the block is Space Mountain which will be heading to the big screen courtesy of the writer for the Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars series on Disney+.The Hollywood Reporter has heard that the popular Space Mountain ride at Disneyland will be turned into a movie and has hired Joby Harold to write the script. Harold has credits on Zack Snyder’s upcoming Army of the Dead as well as the Obi-Wan series on Disney+.

Every Delayed Movie Due to Coronavirus (So Far)

Space Mountain is a popular roller coaster attraction based on Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. Funny enough Space Mountain was converted into a Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain in 2017 that renovated the attraction with Star Wars sounds and visuals.

So knowing that a current Star Wars writer is tackling a Space Mountain film adaptation is a humorous coincidence. Personally, I prefer Space Mountain over the Hyperspace variant, but to each their own.

The Space Mountain movie will join a list of Disney attractions-turned-films including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland, and the upcoming Jungle Cruise.

Matt T.M. Kim is a reporter for IGN.

Header image via wikimidea commons.


The Outpost Review

Admittedly, most war films aren’t my bag, but The Outpost, from director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle, Straw Dogs), is an exceptional blend of writing, acting, and technical filmmaking. Sadly, like many other small and medium-budgeted films that weren’t delayed due to COVID, The Outpost got blurred out and buried over the summer during the failed experiment to reopen theaters.Based on journalist Jake Tapper’s non-fiction book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, the film depicts the months leading up to the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, where just over 50 soldiers found themselves surrounded on all sides by hundreds of Taliban insurgents in a death trap of an outpost, located in a remote region of the country at the bottom of three steep mountains.

Any attacker would automatically have the high-ground advantage and just about every day at this station, which was established as a peacekeeping outreach program between the U.S. military and the locals, the soldiers manning the base endured a few minutes of gunfire. The Taliban’s scouting attacks became as commonplace as the sunrise and were treated as almost banal occurrences despite how lethal these skirmishes could be.

The Outpost Images

Yes, those assigned to Combat Outpost Keating were aware of its reputation. Commanding officers who were flown in knew the area’s high mortality rate for the oft-targeted captains. The soldiers knew that the camp itself was at the bottom of a kill-zone cauldron and that air support was at least two hours away. The Outpost, as a story, nicely draws us into a large ensemble, who you at first think will all too easily blend together into nebulous characters, and shows us a battalion that’s, bottom line, just trying to survive the day-to-day. While their superiors focus on respectful (and mostly fruitless) sit-downs with local tribal elders, the men band together as possible “short-timers,” knowing that no matter how good any of them are they could be taken out at any time.

There’s an episodic nature to The Outpost that really works well. Perhaps stemming from Lurie’s TV shows, like Commander in Chief and Line of Fire, the film traverses several months in these soldiers’ lives, giving us quick hits of their daily routine and big bursts of some of their more violent encounters. Not only does it work as a nice build to the final 20 to 30 minutes of the movie, which is the superbly-executed Battle of Kamdesh sequence, but it’s also the best way to utilize a large cast and give most everyone a scene or two to help them stand out.

When the film starts, it generously gives you everyone’s name, though no one is expected to instantly memorize them all. In fact, it’s such a daunting amount of names that you might worry you’ll never get the hang of them. But, as mentioned, the movie works very hard, presumedly because this is based on a true story (where one of the surviving soldiers is even playing himself), to make everyone feel important and utilized. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t focus on some more than others, as there are a few “main” characters, but everyone still feels like they’re part of the larger puzzle.

Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones are the standouts here, whereas Orlando Bloom is good but also kind of a larger-name cameo. Eastwood, who can’t help but give off Clint vibes, delivers a very engaging and urgent performance as Staff Sergeant Romesha while Caleb Landry Jones uses his inherent oddball qualities to bring Specialist Carter to life, as an angry man who doesn’t fit in with the rest of his squad. Bloom, mentioned previously, doesn’t quite have the screen time the film’s poster might suggest while a similar brief pop-in worth mentioning involves another famous actor’s son, Milo Gibson.

Because of The Outpost’s segmented quality it feels similar, in some ways, to Full Metal Jacket. Unlike that movie though, which spotlights Kubrick’s trademark objectivity and distance, The Outpost succeeds in portraying a realistic camaraderie among the cast. It’s not “cinema verite,” but there’s a wonderful naturalness to a lot of the dialogue and exchanges. And then all of that feeds into the emotional stakes of the firefights. And by the time you get to the big finish, which features a handful of “oners” and impressive tracking shots to bring us into the battle, you’re on the edge of your seat because you care about the collective.

Netflix Spotlight: October 2020


American Gods Season 3 Trailer Revealed at NYCC 2020

American Gods showed off a first look at Season 3 during an NYCC 2020 panel today.After a panel including Ricky Whittle (Shadow Moon), Emily Browning (Laura Moon), Omid Abtahi (Salim), Bruce Langley (Technical Boy), Tetide Badaki (Bilquis), Ashley Reyes (new character Cordelia), and writer Neil Gaiman concluded, an “interruption” from the show’s New Gods led into a first teaser trailer for the next season:The teaser is characteristically unusual, featuring clips of young Shadow Moon set against the story of the current day Shadow heading to the Wisconsin small town of Lakeside to escape from his past. As you might expect, that doesn’t quite work out, and we see a number of gods – including Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday – before we see Shadow Moon begin to accept that he’s a god too.

Much of the panel centers on how this season takes the relatively small portion of the original American Gods book that makes up the Lakeside section, and how the season expands on many characters’ stories to blow that up into 10 episodes:

“What’s magical about what the previous creators involved have brought to American Gods is this amazing ensemble cast, which is not there in the book,” explained Gaiman. “So Shadow and Shadow’s story was in some ways the easiest part of it – that was already laid out in the book.”

No release date has been set, but American Gods Season 3 is set to premiere in early 2021.

Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News. Follow him on Twitter. Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to

Anti-nuclear activist Sister Ardeth Platte dies at 84

Anti-nuclear activist Sister Ardeth Platte, who spent time in jail for her peaceful protests, died in her sleep on Sept. 30

Anti-nuclear activist Sister Ardeth Platte, a Dominican nun who spent time in jail for her peaceful protests, died in her sleep on Sept. 30. She was 84.

Sister Carol Gilbert, who confirmed Platte’s death, lived with her at a Catholic Worker house in Washington, D.C. Gilbert said Platte had participated in a street corner demonstration against nuclear weapons just a few days before her death.

In 2010, Platte was arrested for trespassing at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during a protest, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. At her sentencing hearing, Platte said, “Nuclear weapons are the taproot of violence, and they must be abolished. So I refuse to be silent,” the newspaper reported. She served a four-month sentence. It was one of several arrests over many years of anti-war protests.

In October 2002, Platte, Gilbert and one other Dominican nun, the late Sister Jackie Hudson, poured their own blood on a Minuteman III missile loaded with a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb in Weld County, Colorado. It was one of 49 high-trigger nuclear weapons stored in the state. Their action symbolized taking it offline.

They were convicted of sabotage and received harsh sentences: 41 months for Platte, 33 for Gilbert and 30 for Hudson.

In September 2000, the three were arrested for civil disobedience at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and jailed. The charges were subsequently dropped. They’ve also served time in other states for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.

A report in a Dominican Sisters newsletter provided by Gilbert says Platte grew up in Westphalia, Michigan, and in 1954 entered the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids at 18. She was a Dominican nun for 66 years. The newsletter calls Platte a “justice preacher, peace seeker, teacher, compassionate neighbor and friend who stood with people on the margins.”


Embattled Texas AG drops case that set off staff revolt

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says he’s dropping an investigation sought by a wealthy donor that set off an extraordinary revolt by the Republican’s top deputies

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday dropped an investigation sought by a wealthy donor that set off an extraordinary revolt by the Republican’s top deputies, who accused him of bribery and abuse of office, and fueled new calls for his resignation.

The announcement came hours after prosecutors in Austin expressed unease over why Paxton launched an investigation sought by Nate Paul, an Austin developer and Paxton donor whose offices were raided by the FBI. State authorities also confirmed Friday that they had referred criminal allegations made by Paxton’s own staff against their boss to federal authorities.

“The newly surfaced information raises serious concerns about the integrity of your investigation and the propriety of your conducting it,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who instructed her office to sever contact with Paxton over the case.

Paul gave Paxton $25,000 in campaign contributions in 2018. Federal authorities have not disclosed why they searched Paul’s offices last year, but Paul later sought his own investigation, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated.

Paxton, who this week vowed he will not resign, said in a statement he was dropping Paul’s complaint since local prosecutors are now no longer involved. But Moore has disputed Paxton’s claims of how the case began, saying it was him who first approached her about Paul this summer.

“Criminal investigations are crucial to seek justice for families across the state, but it is a small part of the wide-ranging issues this office handles. We proudly stand by the good, hard work our office continues to conduct every day for all Texans,” Paxton said.

Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The end of the investigation is unlikely to ease pressure on Paxton, who has spent nearly his entire five years in office under indictment over separate allegations of securities fraud. He has denied wrongdoing over the Paul complaint, and cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.”

Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who used to work for Paxton, called for his resignation this week. On Friday, another Republican lawmaker who chairs a committee with oversight of Paxton’s office also expressed concerns.

“If there is any truth whatsoever to the factual and legal claims of your own senior staff, I believe you must voluntarily resign your position and urge you to do so,” Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach wrote in a letter.

Moore, a Democrat, distanced herself from the probe a week after Paxton’s top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office after he hired an outside lawyer to look into Paul’s allegations. Paxton has said Travis County prosecutors referred the case to his office, but Moore wrote Friday that “should not be used as any indication of a need for investigation.”

The outside lawyer Paxton hired was Brandon Cammack, who graduated from law school in 2015 and runs a modest criminal defense practice. He has no prosecutorial experience but d oes have ties to one of Paul’s defense attorneys. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment this week.

Keith Byers, an attorney and retired FBI agent who oversaw public corruption cases in Texas, suggested the attorney general’s investigation was “a cheap diversionary tactic and nothing more than political theatre.”

Byers said the FBI is often wary of the motives of people who report crimes to them then promptly make the allegations public.

“I understand, however, a situation sometimes can become so unbearable that desperate people decide to jump kicking and screaming off the sinking Titanic in hopes someone will send help,” he said.

Paxton has said he brought in an outside lawyer because he knew Paul, and because the attorney general’s employees were trying to block the investigation. The full nature of Paul and Paxton’s relationship is unclear.

It’s also unclear what Paul has alleged against federal law enforcement, but his claims came to light a year after the FBI searched his home and office. The FBI has declined to comment and Paul’s lawyer has not answered questions about his claims.


Bleiberg reported from Dallas.


Court: Son born abroad to gay couple is a U.S. citizen

A federal appeals court has ruled against the U.S. State Department in its quest to deny the citizenship of one of two twins born abroad to a gay married couple

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court has ruled against the U.S. State Department in its quest to deny the citizenship of one of two twins born abroad to a gay married couple.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that a Los Angeles trial judge correctly concluded that 4-year-old Ethan Dvash-Banks was an American citizen despite being conceived with sperm of an Israeli father and born in Canada using a surrogate mother.

The boy’s other father is a U.S. citizen, and the law does not require a child to show a biological relationship if their parents were married at the time of their birth, a U.S. District Court judge ruled last year. The boy was granted a passport after the ruling, but the State Department appealed.

A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that it was bound by precedent from previous decisions and issued a short memorandum without hearing arguments.

Andrew Dvash-Banks, the father who is a U.S. citizen, said he was thrilled by the ruling that affirms his son’s citizenship and removes uncertainty that has hung over the family for nearly four years.

While the twins are still too young to understand what their parents have gone through, the fathers set up email accounts to create a sort of digital journal the boys can read some day. Dvash-Banks said he planned to email them tonight with a copy of the ruling and thoughts on the latest development.

“We want both to know how much we love then and how much we fight for them,” he said. “The fact that they’re twins and not being treated equally, we want them to know that we did everything to make that right and we were successful.”

Before the boys were out of diapers, Ethan was a plaintiff in the unusual case that arose after the American consulate in Toronto denied his citizenship after requiring DNA tests that showed he was the biological son of Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli citizen.

Ethan’s twin brother, Aiden, was given citizenship because he was the biological son of Andrew Dvash-Banks.

The couple met when Andrew was studying in Israel. At the time, they couldn’t marry legally in the U.S. or Israel, so they moved to Canada and wed in 2010. The boys were born by a surrogate in September 2016 using sperm from each of the fathers and donor eggs.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the toddler by Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ immigrant rights group, sought the same rights for Ethan as his brother.

The group argued that the children of a U.S. citizen who marries abroad are entitled to citizenship at birth no matter where they are born, even if the other parent is a foreigner.

District courts in Maryland, Georgia and Washington, D.C., have issued similar rulings, said Aaron Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality and one of the family’s lawyers.

He said the Department of Justice conceded in its appeal that it would lose if the court applied the law in the case.

“This seems to be an issue they’re not willing to budge on,” Morris said. “Every federal court that has heard the government’s argument has ruled against them.”

The State Department said it was reviewing the decision with the Department of Justice.


UN calls for Turkish Cypriots to close beach in Varosha

The U_N_ Security Council is calling on Turkey and Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus to close a beach in uninhabitated Varosha that was opened this week, and avoid any unilateral actions “that could raise tensions on the island.”

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council called on Turkey and Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus on Thursday to close a beach in uninhabitated Varosha that was opened this week and avoid any unilateral actions “that could raise tensions on the island.”

The Security Council adopted a resolution in 1984 which said any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its original inhabitants is “inadmissible.” It called “for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations.” A 1992 resolution reaffirmed the 1984 resolution and called for Varosha to be put under control of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus — but that has not happened.

The U.N.’s most powerful body on Friday reaffirmed “the status of Varosha as set out in previous U.N. Security Council resolutions” and reiterated “that no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha that are not in accordance with those resolutions.”

“The Security Council expresses its deep concern regarding the announcement in Ankara on Oct. 6 to open the coastline of Varosha and calls for the reversal of this course of action, and for the avoidance of any unilateral actions that could raise tensions on the island,” the statement said.

“The Security Council stresses the importance of full respect and implementation of its resolutions,” it said after closed consultations on Varosha.

The decision, by Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, recognized only by Ankara, to open the mile-long stretch of beach was roundly condemned by the island’s Greek Cypriot-run, internationally recognized government. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades called the opening a “flagrant violation of international law” and Security Council resolutions.

Greek Cypriots fear the beach opening is only a first step by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to completely take over Varosha.

Both U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expressed concern at the action they said could heighten tensions and undermine fresh attempts at restarting talks between the Cyrus rivals.

Thursday’s opening of the beach came just before Turkish Cypriots vote on Sunday to choose a leader to take part in U.N.-mediated talks aimed at ending Cyprus’ decades of ethnic division.

The Security Council reaffirmed its support for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his intention to convene a meeting which Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders agreed to in November 2019.

Numerous rounds of talks between the two sides over nearly five decades have failed. The last attempt in 2017 collapsed in acrimony.

The council reaffirmed its commitment to a settlement “in accordance with the wishes of the Cypriot people, and based on a bicommunal, bi-zonal federation with political equality” as set out in its resolutions.

Guterres repeated last month that he intends to convene an informal meeting of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, as well as the guarantor powers soon after Sunday’s Turkish Cypriot leadership vote.

Last month, Guterres called for steps to boost confidence in the lead-up to the meeting — and he urged the parties to “avoid any unilateral actions that could undermine the future success” of talks.

As the secretary-general and the Security Council have made clear, this week’s actions in Varosha by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots flouted that appeal.


Google Indexing Bug Almost Fixed – New Update via @martinibuster

Google SearchLiaison tweeted an update about Google’s long running mobile indexing issues. He stated that the main indexing issue is 99% fixed. However the canonical indexing issue remains partially broken, with only 55% of it fixed.

Mobile Indexing Issue

The initial problem that publishers noticed was web pages dropping from the index, with many noticing it happening to website home pages:

This was happening to more than just the home page though. Another symptom of the indexing problem was that  new web pages were taking a long time to get indexed and appear in Google’s index.

Some web publishers reported here and there that a partial fix was to resubmit dropped URLs to Google Search Console, whereupon the dropped URLs would be restored.


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Canonicalization Issue

The second problem affected how Google gave attribution to web pages that had duplicate content. For example, a web publisher might publish an article and a scraper would copy it and create a duplicate.

When a publisher searched for their newly created article Google would show the web page that had infringing content and not the original source of the content.

Others noticed that this was also happening for syndicated content where in the past the original publisher would show. After the canonicalization issue appeared it was the syndicated content that would show and not the original content.

This is how SearchLiaison described the problem on October 1, 2020:

“If a previously indexed page has gone, it might be the mobile-indexing issue, where we’re failing to select any page at all to index. If the canonical issue is involved, URL Inspector may show the URL as a duplicate & the Google-selected canonical will be different from it….”


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Then later he tweeted:

“The issue with canonicals impacted roughly about 0.02% of our index, beginning around Sept. 20 until late yesterday around 4:30pm PT. We’ve since restored about 10% of those URLs and keep reprocessing more.”

Indexing and Canonical Issues Mostly Fixed

Today, October 9th, Google Search Liaison stated that the issues were partially fixed. But the canonicalization problem is still ongoing.

“Update: the mobile indexing was effectively resolved yesterday, with about 99% of the URLs restored. Work on the canonical issue continues, with about 55% of impacted URLs restored.”

These problems have caused a significant disruption for affected publishers.