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Alec Baldwin goes on trial this week, nearly 3 years after fatal 'Rust' shooting

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Alec Baldwin goes on trial this week, nearly 3 years after fatal 'Rust' shooting

Alec Baldwin at a December 2021 event in New York.

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Actor and producer Alec Baldwin goes to trial in New Mexico this week for involuntary manslaughter. In October 2021, while he was rehearsing a scene for the western film Rust, the gun he was holding went off, fatally shooting cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

The 66-year-old actor faces up to 18 months in prison if he’s convicted, but has pleaded not guilty. Since the shooting, he’s maintained his innocence, saying he was not responsible for the live bullet that was loaded into what was supposed to be a blank prop gun.

A photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on display during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., Oct. 23, 2021.

A photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on display during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., in October 2021.

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After the accident, Baldwin went on national television to walk through the events on set at Bonanza Creek Ranch. He told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he was handed the revolver and someone yelled “cold gun,” meaning the gun did not have live rounds.

“I take the gun and I start to cock the gun,” Baldwin explained on TV. “I let go of the hammer of the gun and the gun goes off…I didn’t pull the trigger.”

That interview and other statements he made to the press and to police may be part of the evidence presented during his trial. Jury selection begins Tuesday and opening arguments begin the following day. New Mexico special prosecutor Kari Morrissey says she intends to prove his criminal culpability.

Alec Baldwin gestures while talking with investigators following the fatal on-set shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Video of the conversation was released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in 2022.

Alec Baldwin gestures while talking with investigators following the fatal on-set shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Video of the conversation was released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in 2022.

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“Mr. Baldwin knew he had a real gun in his hand. Mr. Baldwin specifically asked for the biggest gun that was available. Mr. Baldwin knew and understood that dummy rounds look identical to live ammunition,” Morrissey told the judge in a pretrial hearing two weeks ago. Morrissey said Baldwin didn’t pay attention during a safety training on set. “Halyna Hutchins is dead,” she said, “because he didn’t participate in the safety check.”

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Rust armorer is already behind bars

The film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was responsible for guns and ammunition on the set. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and is serving an 18-month prison sentence. Prosecutors argued that her negligence on set led to Halyna Hutchins’ death.

“I am saddened by the way the media sensationalized our traumatic tragedy and portrayed me as a complete monster, which has actually been the total opposite of what’s been in my heart,” Gutierrez-Reed read aloud in a statement during her trial. “When I took on Rust, I was young and I was being naive, but I took my job as seriously as I knew how to. Despite not having proper time, resources and staffing when things got tough, I just did my best to handle it.”

State prosecutors indicated they may call Gutierrez-Reed to testify as a witness in Baldwin’s trial, but it’s not clear if she will end up taking the stand. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer, who presided over her trial and will preside over Baldwin’s, said in a recent hearing that the armorer would likely not cooperate.

Possible testimony at Baldwin’s trial

Also on the witness list prosecutors submitted for the trial: director Souza, script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and prop master Sarah Zachry, who were all on the set the day of the shooting. Film armorers Seth Kenney and Bryan W. Carpenter and firearms expert Lucien Haag may also be called on as experts.

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Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who worked as armorer on the set of the movie Rust, arrives at her sentencing hearing in April.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who worked as armorer on the set of Rust in New Mexico, arrives at her sentencing hearing in April. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March and is serving an 18-month sentence.

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Among those Baldwin’s attorneys may call to the witness stand is Rust assistant director David Halls. Last year, he was convicted of unsafe handling of a firearm during the production; at the time, he agreed to testify truthfully at any upcoming hearings or trials related to the Rust shooting.

Baldwin’s attempts to dismiss the charges against him

Baldwin’s attorneys also tried several last-ditch efforts to get the case against their client thrown out. Most recently, they blamed prosecutors for deliberately allowing the gun to be damaged during testing after the shooting. During a pretrial hearing two weeks ago, an FBI agent said he tested the gun to see if it would fire accidentally without pulling the trigger, even if it was jolted violently. He testified that he hammered the gun from different angles with a rawhide mallet. As a result, the gun was broken into pieces.

“It’s kind of ironic in a case conceivably about an accident, the state somehow gets away with intentionally destroying the key evidence and depriving the defense of that evidence,” Baldwin’s attorney Alex Spiro told Judge Sommer. She ruled, however, that prosecutors did not act in bad faith when ordering the test and moved to proceed with the trial.

Meanwhile, Baldwin has been busy in Hollywood

Baldwin has been busy working in Hollywood for the past few years. He’s starring as a logger in the action thriller Clear Cut, which comes out in theaters and on demand July 19, the same day Judge Sommer has said she wants the trial to end.

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Baldwin, his wife Hilaria and their seven children recently announced they’ll star in an upcoming reality series on TLC, “The Baldwins.”

Meanwhile, production of the indie film Rust finished last year in Montana, with Halyna Hutchins’ widower Matthew as executive producer — a position he negotiated as part of the wrongful death settlement he made with the production company.

It’s still unclear exactly when or where that film will be shown; Rust still doesn’t have distribution deals.

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NBA signs media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon, leaving TNT behind

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NBA signs media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon, leaving TNT behind

An NBA logo is seen on an official game ball before a game, Feb. 1, 2014, in New York. The NBA said Wednesday that it is not accepting Warner Bros. Discovery’s $1.8 billion per year offer to continue its longtime relationship with the league and therefore has entered into a deal with Amazon Prime Video.

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The NBA signed its 11-year media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon Prime Video on Wednesday after saying it was not accepting Warner Bros. Discovery’s $1.8 billion per year offer to continue its longtime relationship with the league.

The media rights deals were approved by the league’s Board of Governors last week and will bring the league about $76 billion over those 11 years.

WBD had five days to match a part of those deals and said it was exercising its right to do so, but its offer was not considered a true match by the NBA. That means the 2024-25 season will be the last for TNT after a nearly four-decade run.

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“Warner Bros. Discovery’s most recent proposal did not match the terms of Amazon Prime Video’s offer and, therefore, we have entered into a long-term arrangement with Amazon,” the league said Wednesday. “Throughout these negotiations, our primary objective has been to maximize the reach and accessibility of our games for our fans. Our new arrangement with Amazon supports this goal by complementing the broadcast, cable and streaming packages that are already part of our new Disney and NBCUniversal arrangements. All three partners have also committed substantial resources to promote the league and enhance the fan experience.”

What Amazon Prime Video gets

Amazon Prime Video will carry games on Friday nights, select Saturday afternoons and Thursday night doubleheaders which will begin after the conclusion of Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” schedule. Prime Video will also take over the NBA League Pass package from WBD.

“The digital opportunities with Amazon align perfectly with the global interest in the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “And Prime Video’s massive subscriber base will dramatically expand our ability to reach our fans in new and innovative ways.”

The package also includes at least one game on Black Friday and the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game of the NBA Cup.

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“Over the past few years, we have worked hard to bring the very best of sports to Prime Video and to continue to innovate on the viewing experience,” said Jay Marine, global head of sports for Prime Video. “We’re thrilled to now add the NBA to our growing sports lineup, including the NFL, UEFA Champions League, NASCAR, NHL, WNBA, NWSL, Wimbledon, and more. We are grateful to partner with the NBA, and can’t wait to tip-off in 2025.”

ESPN and ABC keep the NBA Finals

ESPN and ABC will keep the league’s top package, which includes the NBA Finals. ABC has carried the finals since 2003.

ESPN/ABC will combine for nearly 100 games during the regular season. More than 20 games will air on ABC, mainly on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, while ESPN will have up to 60 games, mostly on Wednesday nights with some Friday games. ABC and ESPN will also combine for five games on Christmas Day and have exclusive national coverage of the final day of the regular season.

During the playoffs, ESPN and ABC will have approximately 18 games in the first two rounds each year and one of the two conference finals series in all but one year of the agreement.

NBC becomes a second network partner

The return of NBC, which carried NBA games from 1990 through 2002, gives the NBA two broadcast network partners for the first time.

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NBC will have up to 100 regular-season games, including on Sunday night once the NFL season has ended. It will air games on Tuesdays throughout the regular season, while a Monday night doubleheader would be exclusively streamed on Peacock.

NBC will also have the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night. During the playoffs, NBC and/or Peacock will have up to 28 games the first two rounds, with at least half on NBC.

NBC and Amazon will also carry one of the two conference finals series in six of the 11 years on a rotating basis. NBC will have a conference final in 2026-27 followed by Amazon the next season.

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President Biden Addresses Nation After Dropping Out, Time For New Generation

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President Biden Addresses Nation After Dropping Out, Time For New Generation

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These dictators are different. 'Autocracy, Inc.' explains how

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These dictators are different. 'Autocracy, Inc.' explains how

Naval vessels participate in a Taiwanese military drill near the naval port in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan on Jan. 27, 2016.

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The United States and other major democracies face the most challenging geopolitical landscape in decades. The crises include a bloody battle for land in Eastern Europe that challenges the principle of territorial sovereignty, the risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the coming years and a brutal war in Gaza that could still spread.

We are in a new era, but how do we define it, and what is the fundamental threat?

Several recent books tackle this crucial question. New York Times White House and National Security correspondent David Sanger calls this historical moment “New Cold Wars.” He sees the U.S. defending the West against a rising China and resurgent Russia. CNN anchor and Chief National Security analyst Jim Sciutto calls it “The Return of Great Powers.”

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In her new book, the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum takes a different, more sweeping view. We are not in Cold War 2.0, she argues, but a battle for the future world order against what she calls “Autocracy, Inc., The Dictators Who Want to Rule the World.

Autocracy, Inc., is not a club. There are no meetings like SPECTRE in a James Bond movie, where villains give progress reports on their kleptocratic gains and attacks on democracy. Instead, Applebaum writes, it is a very loosely knit mix of regimes, ranging from theocracies to monarchies, that operate more like companies. What unites these dictators isn’t an ideology, but something simpler and more prosaic: a laser-focus on preserving their wealth, repressing their people and maintaining power at all costs.

These regimes can help each other in ways large and small, Applebaum writes.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, Belarus and Cuba voted in favor of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the United Nations in 2014. Russia gave loans to Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro, while Venezuelan police use Chinese-made water cannons, tear gas and surveillance equipment to attack and track street protesters.

Of course, U.S. companies have also supplied authoritarian regimes. When covering the crushing of the democracy movement in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, I rummaged through bins of empty rubber bullet canisters made by a company in Pennsylvania.

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More recently and more alarming, though, have been China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s June visit to North Korea, which the U.S. accuses of supplying weapons to Russia.

But Autocracy Inc., uses more than conventional arms to attack democracies. In order to retain power and build more wealth, autocrats also undermine the idea of democracy as a viable choice for their own people. Fearful of its former Soviet republics drifting further West – see Ukraine – Russia and its three main TV channels broadcast negative news about Europe an average of 18 times a day during one three-year stretch.

Autocracy, Inc.

China extends its message through local media and helps other dictatorships. After satellite networks dropped Russia Today – RT – following the invasion of Ukraine, China’s StarTimes satellite picked up RT and put it back into African households, where it could spread Moscow’s anti-Western, anti-LGBTQ message, which resonates in many African nations.

The goal is not to persuade people that autocracy is the answer, but to encourage cynicism about the alternative. Applebaum says the message is this: You may not like our society, but at least we are strong and the democratic world is weak, degenerate, divided and dying.  

How did the world end up here?

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Applebaum is strong on how Western misjudgment and greed enabled and empowered autocrats over the decades. A working theory in Washington and Berlin was that greater economic integration and dependency between the West and China and Russia would serve as a glue and deterrent, making conflict too costly. But Europe’s dependence on Russian gas predictably backfired. Moscow used it as a source of blackmail following the invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, corporate America’s heavy investment in China helped fuel the country’s extraordinary economic rise, but didn’t lead to the desired political results. Instead of becoming a more liberal, Western-friendly regime, the Communist Party became a more powerful rival. Among other things, Beijing used its new wealth to build islands in the South China Sea and a blue-water navy to challenge America’s.

At just over two hundred pages, Applebaum’s book is slender. She might have done more to detail the boomerang effect of globalization. When American companies exported jobs to China, they cut labor costs, boosted profits and lowered prices for consumers. Those business decisions devastated communities built on everything from auto plants to furniture factories.

That sowed the seeds for the populist backlash in 2016 that continues to roil the country to the benefit of America’s authoritarian opponents.

What is to be done? First, make life harder for dictators.

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Applebaum says democratic nations have to make it more difficult for kleptocrats to stash their money overseas. She suggests an international coalition of treasury and finance ministry officials across Europe, Asia and North America work to strengthen transparency and tighten laws together.

This will be tough. Kleptocrats make lucrative clients for lawyers, financiers and real estate agents. One of London’s unofficial industries is money-laundering. And, in a complex political landscape, it can be useful for democracies to work with corrupt regimes to achieve bigger goals.

Another way to combat dictatorship is for democracies to deliver at home, as Charles Dunst argues in Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman. Political grid-lock, income inequality, stagnant wages and rising crime can provide fertile ground for populists.

Anti-incumbency and accountability have stood out as themes during this epic year of elections as voters punished long-serving parties, such as the Conservatives in the UK and the African National Congress in South Africa.

More broadly, Applebaum says, democratic countries need to reduce their economic dependence on authoritarian rivals. Europe’s reliance on Russian gas was an embarrassing and costly lesson. Minerals could prove another one for the United States.

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Today, the U.S. only produces 4% of the world’s lithium and 13% of its cobalt, while China processes more than 80% of all critical minerals.

With the world’s next geopolitical fault-line perhaps lying in the waters around the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, this kind of math just doesn’t figure.

Frank Langfitt is NPR’s Global Democracy correspondent. Previously, he spent nearly two decades reporting overseas, based in Beijing, Nairobi, Shanghai and London. In February 2022, he covered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

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