Saturday News: Theatre of the absurd

GUN NUTS FROM GRNC PUT ON A COSTUME PARTY AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY: A group of gun rights activists – some of them dressed in rhinoceros costumes – held a rally outside the legislature Thursday calling on N.C. Senate Republicans to pass legislation loosening gun permit requirements. They vowed to fight Republicans who don't support the bill in the 2018 election. Grass Roots North Carolina held the event to introduce a new mascot called Squish the Magic RINO, a reference to the acronym “Republican in name only.” Shortly after he was introduced, Squish – a group member wearing a rubber rhinoceros face mask – was unmasked when General Assembly police officers told him it’s illegal to wear a mask on state government property.

LIGHTS ARE BACK ON IN HATTERAS AND OCRACOKE: A weeklong power outage came to an end on Thursday, when crews restored power for the thousands of residents on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. A new overhead transmission line is bringing electricity from the mainland to the islands, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. A mandatory evacuation for visitors on the islands, which was issued as a result of the power outage, will be lifted at noon on Friday, according to local officials. Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said that power had been restored to the entirety of Hatteras and Ocracoke. Communities had been operating on generator power and were ordered to conserve electricity for a week.

SENATE APPROVES TRUMP APPOINTEES TO FERC, GAS PIPELINES WILL FOLLOW: Before leaving town, the U.S. Senate handed President Donald Trump and the oil industry two long-sought regulatory appointments that could expedite construction of natural gas pipelines nationwide. Since February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has lacked a quorum to decide on new projects, frustrating the oil and gas industry, which lobbied Trump and the Senate to fill vacant seats. Just before its August recess, the Senate delivered, approving the nominations of Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to serve on the commission, commonly known as FERC. Energy lobbyists were giddy following the vote, optimistic the commission will quickly act on a backlog of multi-billion-dollar gas pipelines proposed in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Virginias and North Carolina.

JUDGES OVERTURN CONVICTIONS OF BLACKWATER MERCENARIES IN NISOUR SQUARE MASSACRE: A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater security contractor, ordering a new trial for the man prosecutors say fired the first shots in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad. In a split opinion, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit ruled a lower court erred by not allowing Nicholas Slatten to be tried separately from his three co-defendants in 2014. The 33-year-old contractor from Tennessee is serving a life sentence for his role in the killings, which strained international relations and drew intense scrutiny of the role of American contractors in the Iraq War. The court also ordered new sentences for the three other contractors, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. They were each found guilty of manslaughter and firearms charges carrying mandatory 30-year terms.

SESSIONS VOWS TO HELP TRUMP ROOT OUT WHITE HOUSE LEAKERS: Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged on Friday to rein in government leaks that he said undermine American security, taking an aggressive public stand after being called weak on the matter by President Donald Trump. The nation’s top law enforcement official cited no current investigations in which disclosures of information had jeopardized the country. His announcement, made with other security officials at the Justice Department, followed a series of news reports involving the Trump campaign and White House that have relied on classified information. Meanwhile, a White House adviser raised the possibility of lie detector tests for the small number of people in the West Wing and elsewhere with access to transcripts of President Donald Trump’s phone calls. The Washington Post has published transcripts of his conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.