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News and Pop Culture Round-Up

Ed Flanagan, First Openly Gay Lawmaker Elected to Statewide Office, Dead at 66

Ed Flanagan
The former Vermont auditor of accounts and state senator credited as the first openly gay lawmaker in the country elected to statewide office has died. Ed Flanagan died Friday at a nursing home in New Hampshire. He was 66. Vermont Democratic State Rep. Mary Sullivan, who had been friends with Flanagan for decades, said Saturday she had planned to visit Flanagan on Friday but arrived shortly after his death. Flanagan suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2005 car crash that left him in a coma for several weeks. Sullivan said Flanagan's declining health in recent years was a result of those injuries. "He was passionate and very progressive," said Sullivan who knew Flanagan in Washington before she moved to Vermont to manage Flanagan's unsuccessful run for Vermont attorney general in 1988. "He was guided by a moral compass." Flanagan was first elected auditor in 1992. He was elected to three additional two-year terms, including two after he came out as gay in 1995. Conor Casey, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, said Flanagan was courageous to come out as gay before it became common. "He leaves a tremendous legacy and a lot for us to strive for in the party," Casey said. READ MORE


The Claim That Hillary Clinton Rigged The Democratic Primary Falls Apart After Full Memo Is Published

It turns out that Hillary Clinton didn’t rig the Democratic primary because the joint fundraising agreement between Clinton and the DNC only applied to the general election. NBC News published the full Clinton-DNC fundraising agreement memo, and it contains a paragraph that destroys the conspiracy theory that Clinton rigged the primary, “Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary.” For the conspiracy believers who think that Sanders was robbed, nothing is going to change their minds, not even a black and white memo saying that the fundraising agreement didn’t apply to the Democratic primary, but the truth is that the primary was not rigged, but the problems at the DNC were very real. The DNC needs to be believed as impartial. The perception alone that they favor one candidate over another is a serious problem. However, this fundraising agreement did not allow Hillary Clinton to take over the DNC during the Democratic primary. The context matters, and while the details of the agreement would have paved the way for Clinton take over the DNC if she would have won the election, which is what presidents do. READ MORE


There Are 60 Million Fake Accounts on Facebook

Hidden within Facebook's blockbuster third-quarter earnings on Wednesday are two important numbers the company quietly updated. 10% of Facebook's 2.07 billion monthly users are now estimated to be duplicate accounts, up from 6% estimated previously. The social network's number of fake accounts, or accounts not associated with a real account, increased from 1% to 2-3%. In its earnings release shared with investors, Facebook said the changes were due to "a new methodology for duplicate accounts that included improvements to the data signals we rely on." While a relatively small percentage of Facebook's massive user base, the 10% figure means that there are now roughly 207 million duplicate accounts and as many as 60 million fake accounts on the network. READ MORE


The Right-Wing’s Favorite Internet Personality Was Just Outed as a Russian Troll

"Jenna Abrams" photo used by Russian trolls 
Jenna Abrams’ tweets were beloved, at times, by both the alt-right and the celebrity blogosphere. Now, Congressional investigators have confirmed that her Twitter account was actually run out of St. Petersburg, Russia’s infamous troll farm. According to The Daily Beast, the “Abrams” account that initially became famous after “fixing” a nude selfie posted by Kim Kardashian was run, along with thousands of others, by the Kremlin-funded Internet Research Agency. The account, which was supposed to be run by an American blogger, soon pivoted to right-wing rhetoric, including a professed belief in segregation. Before she became a favorite among the reactionary right-wing set, however, “Abrams’ account built up an image of a straight-talking, no-nonsense, viral-tweet-writing young American woman.” After building a following with funny takes on pop culture and feminism, “she would push divisive views on immigration, segregation and Donald Trump” in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Abrams’ tweets were published everywhere from InfoWars to USA Today and Sputnik to The Washington Post, and high-profile users like Roseanne Barr, Michael McFaul and even, once, Starbucks’ corporate account responded to her on Twitter. Rather than just being a standalone Twitter account, Abrams also had a personal website, a Gmail account, a Medium account and a GoFundMe page. READ MORE


Why Do So Many People Hate Openly Gay Singer Sam Smith?

It’s fashionable to hate Sam Smith. If you didn’t know this, a recent New York Times profile of the singer certainly paints him as the victim of cruel taunting on social media. Is it true? Perhaps. But take a stroll through the mentions of a pop star like Rita Ora or Katy Perry or even Taylor Swift and you’ll see similar rude jokes about their music, their opinions, and their circumstances. It’s hard to greet Sam Smith with anything other than derision. His music, till now, has mostly been less dynamic Adele fare manufactured to sell at coffee shops. His biggest hit ripped off Tom Petty. His soulful, at times dulcet voice has been used in the service of music that hardly sets the world on fire or opens itself up to further examination, so it’s easy to understand why the focus is generally on his blunders. There have been many. Like the interview where he slipped into respectability politics and pandered to his straight fan base by decrying the use of Grindr and other dating apps among gay men. “No offense to people who go on Tinder but I just feel like it’s ruining romance, I really do,” he said. “We’re losing the art of conversation and being able to go and speak to people and you’re swiping people… From my experience the most beautiful people I’ve been on dates with are the dumbest, so why would I swipe people who are ‘unattractive’ when I could potentially fall in love with them? Stop Tinder and Grindr!” READ MORE


Russia Funded Facebook and Twitter Investments Through An Associate of Trump's Son-in-law Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner (L) and Donald Trump (R)
Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal. The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser. The discovery is likely to stir concerns over Russian influence in US politics and the role played by social media in last year’s presidential election. It may also raise new questions for the social media companies and for Kushner. Alexander Vershbow, who was a US ambassador to Russia under George W Bush and to Nato under Bill Clinton, said the Russian state institutions were frequently used as “tools for Putin’s pet political projects”.READ MORE


The Most Insane Moments of ‘Riverdale’ Season 2 (So Far!)

KJ Apa plays Archie on Riverdale
It’s time to check back in on that wonderful fever dream known as Riverdale. Season 1 of The CW’s sultry teen noir solved the mysterious murder of Jason Blossom, while Season 2 is doubling down on the action as an evasive serial killer known as The Black Hood terrorizes this once quaint hamlet. Fred Andrews? Shot. Miss Grundy? Dead. Jughead? Still brooding, but now he drives a motorcycle. Thanks to the show’s unpredictable nature and penchant for absurdity, Riverdale has blossomed into a bonafide water cooler show. We’re only four episodes into the second season and Archie and the gang have already gifted us with so many delightfully ludicrous moments, and I mean that in the best possible way. I genuinely love this weird, wacky show. With its unique combination of over-the-top drama, idiosyncratic dialogue, and genuine intrigue, Riverdale is perfect dessert television. Let’s revisit a few of the most insane moments from the first four episodes of Season 2. READ MORE


Police Charge Blogger with Hate Crime Against University Professor

Professor Kris Wells
(Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) Police have charged a local blogger with a hate crime for allegedly targeting some local well-known LGBTQ advocates in a series of online posts, CBC News has learned. Court records show police have charged Barry Winters, 62, with wilful promotion of hatred in ongoing posts for his blog The Baconfat Papers over a two-year period ending Dec. 31, 2016. The charge is the result of a lengthy investigation after Kris Wells, professor and director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, and at least one other LGBTQ advocate, complained more than a year ago. As an advocate for human rights, Wells said he is regularly harassed by phone and online. "But this particular kind of message really did cross the line and targeted me personally," he said in an interview. "It made me concerned for my own safety." Wells said he doesn't favour stifling free and fair speech and respects differences of opinion expressed through constructive conversations. "But no one should have to experience this level of victimization and trauma," he added. Hate incidents don't just target the individual but also send a message that tells the wider community they don't belong and "they're not safe here," he said. READ MORE


European Court Blasts Russia 'Gay Propaganda' Law

Russia's "gay propaganda" law is discriminatory and encourages homophobia, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled. The Strasbourg judges said Russia had discriminated against three gay rights activists who opposed the law. It was adopted in 2013, banning promotion of homosexuality among people under 18. The law "reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia", the ruling said. Gay rights groups condemned the law.Under the law, private individuals deemed to be promoting "homosexual behaviour among minors" face fines of up to 5,000 roubles (£67; $85), while officials risk paying 10 times that amount. Businesses and schools can be fined up to 500,000 roubles. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay prejudice is rife. Critics see the propaganda law as part of a state campaign to marginalise LGBT activists, whose work includes dissemination of sexual health advice. READ MORE

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