Friday, February 23, 2018
  • Open Thread: Bots And Prayers!
    by Frances Langum on February 23, 2018 at 4:30 am

    Please keep them in your #BotsAndPrayers 🙏#TwitterLockOut #TwitterPurge #Resist pic.twitter.com/GtqoMmdb28 — scha·den·freu·de (@BlisterPearl) February 22, 2018 In case you missed the great Trolling Green Massacre, details are here. Open thread below... […]

  • NRA's Website Still Hosts '10 Reasons To Own An AR-15'
    by Kevin Holsinger on February 23, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Noting Mr. David Brooks capitulating to the soft-testicled carriers of weapons of mass murder, and got it into my head to visit the NRA's website. Under the heading "Trending on NRA Publications" was a link to an article "10 Reasons To Own An AR-15" from 2016... I don't expect C&L readers to click on an NRA link, so here are Cliffs Notes to the article: 1. The word "fun" appears 6 times on the page (though I can never find the first hit). 2. Reasons to own this weapon include: "Self-Defense," "Fun/Recreation," "Teaching/Learning," "Hunting," "Tinkering," (what?) "Farm/Ranch Use," (again, what?) "Competitive Shooting," "Disaster Preparedness," "Bringing Women Into Shooting," and "America’s Rifle." 3. At no point does the author point out that we have first-person shooter video games that allow you to fire much cooler guns at much cooler enemies...without killing anyone in the real world. Because where would be the "fun" in that? […]

  • C&L's Late Nite Music Club With Domenique Dumont
    by Dale Merrill on February 23, 2018 at 4:00 am

    I wish I could fill you in a bit about Domenique Dumont but it's a bit of a mystery. I can tell you though the music is a soundtrack for a secret beach yet to be discovered. What are you listening to tonight? […]

  • What Do The Latest Mueller Indictments Mean? Twitter Speculates
    by Susie Madrak on February 22, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    "But what does it all mean?" Has Trump offered them pardons? Did Gates change his mind about cooperating with Mueller? Inquiring minds want to know! (Read the indictments) BOOM x 32! 32, count 'em, 32 counts of Tax Evasion, Money Launderin' and Bank Fraud. Manafort's gotta flip or die in prison.https://t.co/32lFc7XPrN — Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) February 22, 2018 1. Straight for the jugular: tax fraud for Manafort! And Gates "assisted in preparing "False United States Individual Income". Damn. https://t.co/rEK0Hjp4fc — Ale (@aliasvaughn) February 22, 2018 […]

  • Robert Mueller Files Money Laundering , Tax Evasion Indictments Against Manafort And Gates
    by Karoli Kuns on February 22, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Apparently Rick Gates is not being as cooperative as we thought. Either there has been some discussion of pardons or he is a very, very stupid man. I am not sure which, but whatever the case, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed serious new charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. This indictment alleges money laundering and bank fraud, including the intentional failure to report income flowing into the United States from foreign banks. According to MSNBC expert Frank Figliuzzi, if Manafort is convicted on these charges, he will die in prison. These indictments also put the lie to the idea that Rick Gates is making a deal with Robert Mueller. Mueller comes down hard on both Manafort and Gates, alleging that Gates knowingly falsified tax returns to hide the money laundering flowing in from a Cyprus bank. Figliuzzi explained, "Mueller is saying, you know what, while you're figuring that out, the charges continue to pile on." "With regard to Manafort, look, this is all about having Manafort flip on Trump. It's all about showing the Russia connection. Manafort has that kind of information available. He's not flipped yet. He's not cooperating," he continued, adding, "And I'll tell you what, if he doesn't do it with these new tax charges, you're looking at Manafort literally dying in federal prison." Here is the full indictment:read mor […]

  • Watch These Parkland Kids Shred NRA Talking Points: 'Our Message Is Never Again'
    by Karoli Kuns on February 22, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    After noting that the NRA is quite shrill today at CPAC because they are terrified of the students who are standing up to them, Katy Tur brought a couple of them on for an extended interview. Watch them. They're passionate, but calm. Rational. Determined. They aren't going to put up with the hysteria, deflection, and shrill screaming from the likes of Dana Loesch and Wayne LaPierre. This is their message: "We want change to happen. We don't want to sit around and let this happen to another school. Our message is never again and we don't want this to happen anywhere." The NRA, Congress, and anyone who doubts them should reconsider. You can read the full transcript (thanks, Fran!) here. Part 2 is below. [clmediameta nid=137528 […]

  • Dana Loesch Claims She Needed Guns At CNN Town Hall Because Audience Wanted To 'Burn Her'
    by David on February 22, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on Thursday accused the mainstream media of "loving" to making money off of mass shootings and "crying mothers." Speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference, Loesch noted that she had participated in a CNN town hall after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. "Many in the legacy media love mass shootings," she charged. "White crying mothers are ratings gold." "I call B.S.," Loesch added, mocking a line from Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonazlez. "I represent 5 million plus members [of the NRA], average everyday Americans, moms and dads. They do the school run, go to the grocery story, they're students, they're hunters. They are people like me who simply don't want to be assaulted in the parking lot if we go to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk at night!" Before finishing her remarks, Loesch revealed that she needed armed guards to safely exit the CNN town hall. "You heard that town hall last night, they cheered the confiscation of fire arms," she explained. "And it was over 5,000 people. I have to have a security detail to get out. I wouldn't have been able to exit that if I did not have a private security detail. There were people rushing the stage and screaming 'burn her.'" […]

  • WH Spox Raj Shah Can't Decide If He Will Ask Trump About Stormy Daniels Payoff
    by Karoli Kuns on February 22, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    Today's White House press briefing was a combination of infuriating, lying wonkery, outright lies, and one moment of amusement. Rather than amplify the lies, I've chosen to bring you the amusing moment when ABC correspondent Jon Karl asked Raj Shah whether the president was aware and approved of his lawyer paying off Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet before the election. "Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star for her silence and does he approve of that?" Raj Shah shot back, "I haven't asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered." So, wait a second there, Raj. You haven't asked him about it but he has been asked about it and that matter has been asked and answered? Whaaaat? Karl reminded Shah that this is the first chance they've had to ask about it, so would Shah be so kind as to go back and ask about it? Duck and cover. Here's what followed: KARL: "Can you go back and find out if the president approves of the fact that his personal -- SHAH: I haven't asked him about that. KARL: Will you ask him about that? SHAH: I haven't asked him about that KARL: Can you ask him about it? SHAH: I'll get back to you. In other words....Stormy Who? It is so pathetic that any time in these briefings is spent on a porn star payoff during the campaign, but with the sleaze we have in the White House, it's inevitable. […]

  • WATCH: Seb Gorka Physically Threatens Reporter At CPAC
    by Frances Langum on February 22, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    NOTE: Seb Gorka says the F-word in this post/video. Use your best judgment at work. Gee, Seb Gorka confirms everything I already thought about him. He's a bully, and there are very good reasons why he was ousted from the White House as an impossible case when it comes to getting a security clearance. I wonder if he was representing himself as being on staff at Fox News at CPAC. I wonder about his outstanding warrant in Hungary for firearms abuse, too. HOLY SHIT. Just now at CPAC, @SebGorka just raised his hand and threatened to hit @Mediaite reporter @calebecarma, then got in his face, told him to fuck off and shoved him.pic.twitter.com/ElAfIKkDPY — jordan (@JordanUhl) February 22, 2018 The reporter is Mediaite's Caleb Ecarma, with whom Gorka has a "history": […]

  • GOP Congresswoman Claims 'Most Mass Murderers Often End Up Being Democrats'
    by Karoli Kuns on February 22, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Claudia Tenney looks nice enough in her photo, doesn't she? She looks like nice young mom of a Marine, but she's a total unhinged wingnut.* After Trump's State of the Union address, Tenney called Democrats "un-American" and also that they "don't love their country." Yesterday while discussing the Parkland, Florida shooting on a podcast, Tenney dropped a Big Lie into the conversation. “Obviously, there’s a lot of politics in it,” the congresswoman told the “Focus on the State Capitol” podcast hosted by Fred Dicker. “And it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats, but we don’t want to, the media doesn’t talk about that either.” A furor ensued, forcing Tenney's campaign to clarify her remarks. She claims that her comments were made “in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime,” a sin she attributes to...Democrats? The audio is above. You make your own judgment. “I am fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicize tragedies and demonize law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy,” Tenney said in a statement. “I will continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens who are smeared by anti-gun liberal elitists.”read mor […]

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  • Arming Teachers Would Endanger Students of Color
    by Jamelle Bouie on February 22, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    For more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump listened to students, parents, and teachers as they made their impassioned and emotional case for new laws that could end the scourge of school shootings. “We’re going to do something about this horrible situation that’s going on,” Trump said, while speaking to a group that included survivors of the Parkland shooting in Florida as well as parents of children killed at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School. “And we’re going to all figure it out together.&rdquo […]

  • The NRA Muddles Its Message in Surprise CPAC Speech
    by Osita Nwanevu on February 22, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—There was some intrigue about whether the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre would be making an appearance at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His absence from the conference’s online schedule early this week–evidently as a precaution against anti-gun protesters–was in itself remarkable. The Washington Examiner pointed out in an article on the mystery that LaPierre has spoken at CPAC “every year for at least the past decade.&rdquo […]

  • Is This Time Different?
    by Jim Newell on February 22, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    On Wednesday night, an auditorium full of impassioned teenagers and parents jeered Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s every word until the senator with an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association conceded he was shifting some of his positions on gun control. Rubio said that he and his Democratic colleague, Sen. Bill Nelson, would try to secure unanimous consent to pass a bill strengthening the federal database for background checks when the Senate returns next week. Rubio also supported raising the age for purchasing long guns from 18 to 21 years old as well as a ban on “bump stocks.” He said he was “reconsidering” his past position against limiting magazine sizes. He also rejected the NRA and the Trump administration’s pet solution of arming and training teachers at schools. […]

  • The Parkland Teens Will Win. Eventually.
    by Christina Cauterucci on February 22, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    The shape of the Parkland, Florida, shooting’s aftermath is unlike that of any other American massacre. For the first time, the teenage survivors of a school shooting have assumed the mantle of leading the activist response to the tragedy. Their courage in the face of fear and loss has inspired several nationwide actions this week, including student-led walkouts at middle schools and high schools in Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, and Kentucky, among other states. […]

  • The Student Teachers
    by Dahlia Lithwick on February 22, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    In one short week, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have modeled power, eloquence, truth-telling, and hope. Because America seethes with dead-eyed monsters, they are being decried by lunatics as “crisis actors,” the tools of George Soros, and FBI plants. Despite the fact that these young people are now quite literally contending with death threats and mockery, as well as slammed doors, they are organized and organizing and we should all be taking notes. […]

  • No Impact?
    by William Saletan on February 21, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russians for unlawfully interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election,” said Rosenstein. […]

  • The Right’s Hypocrisy on the Stoneman Douglas Teens
    by Osita Nwanevu on February 21, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    On the off chance that gun control legislation of some kind passes in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre, we’ll have the kids, and only the kids, to thank. The shooting’s teen survivors, beyond keeping gun control at the center of the national conversation for longer than might have been expected, seem to have started a real movement—a campaign that could take a place alongside Indivisible and the Women’s March as an example of liberal activism’s potency and power in the Trump era. […]

  • Congress Focuses on Leftover Gun Bill After Florida Shooting
    by Jim Newell on February 20, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    The country is now living that familiar moment following a mass shooting in which it appears that Congress could—and has no reason not to—pass the absolute bare minimum gun legislation. Blink, and you might miss it. […]

  • Mitt Romney’s Mormon Mission
    by Max Perry Mueller on February 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Mitt Romney is finally going to Washington. […]

  • How Has Trump Changed America?
    by Slate Staff on February 19, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Despite the overwhelming evidence that time is a flat circle, Donald Trump has been in office just a hair past one year. Prior to his inauguration, we asked Slate staff and other experts to make predictions on how his presidency would change America. We recently asked the contributors to reassess those predictions, as a window into just how influential—and unpredictable—this presidency has been so far. We weren’t able to evaluate every original prediction here, but we aim to revisit them each year for as long as Trump is in office. […]

  • Three major car rental companies dump the NRA
    by Luke Barnes on February 23, 2018 at 1:20 am

    A major car rental conglomerate which operates three prominent national brands is ending its corporate relationship with the National Rifle Association, as backlash grows in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting. Until Thursday, Enterprise Holdings, which operates Enterprise, Alamo, and National, had a partnership with the NRA to provide discounts to members of the […]

  • Trump ambassador pick made a big donation to Mar-a-Lago gala right after he was nominated
    by Yvette Cabrera on February 23, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Shortly after President Donald Trump nominated Leandro Rizzuto Jr. as ambassador to Barbados, the Florida business executive promised to give thousands of dollars for an upcoming gala at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday. Rizzuto and his wife pledged the donation, which may be as […]

  • Pro-gun Senate candidate forgets when Sandy Hook happened
    by Addy Baird on February 23, 2018 at 12:03 am

    NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — In January 2013, just one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward proposed a bill that would ban all federal, state or local government employees and federally licensed gun dealers in Arizona from enforcing any federal law or regulation relating to firearms or ammunition. But when asked […]

  • Arming teachers to stop school shootings is a dangerous myth
    by Luke Barnes on February 22, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    After last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Americans are imploring their leaders to take serious action on gun control. During a town hall Wednesday night, for instance, survivors of the shooting suggested plenty of steps that could be taken, from banning bump stocks to limiting magazine capacity, strengthening background checks, and  easing the NRA’s stranglehold […]

  • Missouri governor indicted for allegedly taking nude photos of a woman without her consent
    by Melanie Schmitz on February 22, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) was arrested and indicted on Thursday on a felony invasion of privacy charge stemming from a 2015 incident in which he allegedly took nude photos of a woman without her consent. “Today, a City of St. Louis Grand Jury indicted [Greitens] on a Felony Invasion of Privacy charge for an incident […]

  • Mueller’s new indictment of Manafort and Gates debunks White House talking points
    by Casey Michel on February 22, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued its latest series of indictments on Thursday afternoon, this time accusing Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime associate, of a range of crimes, including laundering some $30 million and working as unregistered foreign agents for Ukraine. The details expand upon […]

  • Trump says a school ‘is frankly no different’ than a military base
    by Aaron Rupar on February 22, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    During a White House school safety event on Thursday, President Donald Trump made no bones about the fact that he wants to militarize public schools. The president repeatedly expressed his desire to keep schools safe by “hardening” them — namely, adding armed guards, and in some circumstances, allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons. Trump went […]

  • Virginia Senate Republicans just torpedoed the state’s Medicaid expansion
    by Amanda Michelle Gomez on February 22, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Just four months ago, Virginia’s gubernatorial race saw historic voter turnout — as casting ballots at the time meant extending Medicaid coverage to 400,000 people. On Thursday, voting paid off. Virginia is currently one of 18 states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) despite a majority of residents’ support. But the […]

  • White House spokesman asked about Stormy Daniels, awkwardness ensues
    by Aaron Rupar on February 22, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    On Thursday, Stormy Daniels’ name was uttered for the first time during a White House press briefing. “Last week the president’s personal lawyer acknowledged a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?” […]

  • Sunday shows have a serious climate representation problem
    by Natasha Geiling on February 22, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Despite a modest increase in overall coverage of climate change, Sunday news shows completely excluded scientists and climate journalists from their segments, while including few women and minority voices, according to new analysis from Media Matters. In 2017, the four major cable networks’ Sunday news shows — ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the […]

  • Why (almost) no one wants to host the Olympics anymore
    by Zeeshan Aleem on February 23, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Pyeongchang, South Korea, built a brand new Olympic stadium to host the Winter Games this year. The 35,000-seat stadium cost $109 million to build. And it will be used just four times before it’s demolished. The cost of the stadium will come out to an astonishing $10 million per hour of use, according to Judith Grant-Long, a scholar of sports at the University of Michigan. The reason Pyeongchang plans to destroy the arena is pretty straightforward: The county it’s situated in has about 40,000 people; in order to fill the stadium after the Olympics and the Paralympics are over, almost every single person living in the area would have to attend an event there simultaneously to fill it up. The stadium will soon be useless for locals. The Olympic stadium complex in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The main stadium will be used just four times before being destroyed.Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images The spectacular impracticality of Pyeongchang’s Olympic stadium isn’t an outlier among Olympics venues — it’s actually rather typical. And it’s a powerful symbol of why fewer and fewer cities around the world want to host the Olympics. Rising costs, horror stories of unexpected debt, and the increasing burden of “white elephants” — facilities that are expensive but useless after the games — have made cities more and more wary of hosting the Olympics in recent years. The drop-off is striking. The 2004 Games garnered bids from 12 cities around the world. For the 2020 Games, the pool shrank to five bidders. Then the 2022 Winter Olympics and 2024 Summer Olympics managed to get only two bidders each. In fact, for the 2024 Games, the International Olympic Committee decided to do something unprecedented: Instead of choosing between the only two bidders, Paris and Los Angeles, it decided to award Paris the 2024 Summer Olympics and give Los Angeles the 2028 Summer Olympics. Experts say the IOC decided to give them out at the same time for a simple reason — it was afraid no city would want to host the tournament by the time the 2028 bidding started. The abandoned Olympic aquatics stadium in Rio de Janeiro after the 2016 Games.Buda Mendes/Getty Images The Olympics is the greatest and oldest sporting competition in the world. Cities have historically looked at playing host to such a prestigious event as an unparalleled opportunity to showcase their offerings and in turn attract new tourism and foreign investment. But skyrocketing costs have made hosting them more of a burden than a privilege, and they increasingly inspire grassroots movements to push back against their cities’ plans to host them. Now some experts think that bids to host them could vanish altogether. The Olympics is a party, not an investment If you’re the mayor of a big, up-and-coming city, attempting to host the Olympics might sound like a good idea. It’s a great opportunity to build some impressive buildings and sell yourself as a truly international hub. It seems to be a surefire way to pull in a ton of tourism and present yourself as open to business and investment both in the runup to the games and afterward. But the reality of hosting is quite a bit messier. First, the sports facilities almost always cost more than anticipated. Since 1960, no Olympic Games have come in under budget. In fact, nearly half of them end up costing more than twice as much as expected. Additionally, cities tend to find that most of the stadiums, fields, courts, and other facilities that they built for the games are simply useless after the Olympics are over. Their enormous size makes them difficult for athletes to use and for fans to fill up. “No one in the world needs a 10,000-foot swimming arena or 10,000-foot skating oval,” Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross, told me. And when cities attempt to retrofit Olympics facilities to make them useful for other sports, it can become very expensive very quickly. According to Matheson, London’s attempt to convert its Olympic stadium for a local soccer team after it hosted the games in 2012 ended up costing as much as the stadium itself. Workers alter a sign at the London Olympic stadium the day after the closing ceremony there in 2012.Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images Okay, but maybe it’s still worth it because of the tourist bump? Well, probably not. Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, has pointed out that there’s little evidence that cities see a substantial tourism bump beyond the games themselves. Barcelona saw a lasting tourism legacy after hosting in 1992, but most analysts say its experience was exceptional because the Spanish city was a “hidden gem” with vast cultural offerings that weren’t as well-known around the world prior to the games. The reality is that most cities can’t simply become great tourism hubs just by virtue of hosting the Olympics. A fashion show held at the old Olympic stadium site in Barcelona in 2015.Europa Press via Getty Images Complicating things further, though, is that hosting the Olympics is becoming an even riskier proposition nowadays. Here’s why. How 9/11, dictators, and the IOC’s business model explain why hosting is so expensive Many recent Olympic Games have had some eye-popping price tags. The Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 cost $40 billion. The Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 cost $51 billion. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro cost at least $13 billion, and the Pyeongchang Games are expected to cost around the same. Back in 2000, the Summer Olympics in Sydney cost just around $5 billion. The cost of Olympic Games can vary based on a lot of variables, but the broad trend is clear: It’s becoming a lot more expensive. Allen Sanderson, a sports economist at the University of Chicago, says a lot of the modern uptick in costs can be traced to something that has nothing to do with building stadiums or even sports at all: It’s tied to fear of terrorism. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the cost of security at the Olympics skyrocketed. The first Summer Olympics held after the attacks were the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Those games cost more than $15 billion, and a big part of that was because the city spent tons of money trying to protect the games from a potential terrorist attack. Sanderson says that post-9/11 security “adds between $2 and 5 billion to the price tag to start with.” Another contributing factor for price is what could be called the autocrat effect. The two most expensive Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics in history were hosted by China and Russia respectively — Beijing in 2008, which cost $40 billion, and Sochi in 2014, which cost $51 billion. Analysts say the fact that they are both large, non-democratic countries helps explain why they set records for how much they spent. For decades, cities’ Olympic bids have been about more than just building sports facilities. Cities also tend to use their bids as an opportunity to invest in and upgrade infrastructure for transit in the city (roads, public transportation) and tourism (hotels, parks). And China and Russia both used the Olympics to invest massively in their cities. They did it to improve the cities themselves and to impress the world — but also because they could. While democratic leaders have to be mindful of public opinion when making investments in the Olympics, autocrats don’t have to worry about that as much, so they have much more freedom to spend wildly. It’s hard to imagine having that mindset in, say the US, where local activists were able to successfully petition to pull Boston out of its official 2024 bid because they thought it didn’t make financial sense for the city. Analysts say that Beijing and Sochi’s runaway spending has had a lasting effect. It created a new benchmark for how grand and expensive hosting can be and ramped up the pressure on other cities to come up with flashier and costlier proposals in order to get the IOC’s attention in their bid. Those big proposals have made many cities think their bids have to be more expensive than ever to have a chance of winning. Unless the hosting competition model changes, most cities that will continue to see the costs as worthwhile are those in autocratic nations and those with experience hosting the Olympics in the past. This pattern has already emerged in the most recent bidding rounds. The two final bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics were Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing — neither of which has to worry much about public opinion of the jaw-dropping costs. Three other bidders for 2022 — Stockholm, Krakow, and Oslo — all dropped out midway through the process because of local political opposition to hosting. Similarly, the final two bidders for the 2024 Olympics were Paris and Los Angeles — both large cities that have hosted the Olympics before. Granted, Paris hasn’t hosted in about a century, so it’ll have some more heavy lifting to do. But Los Angeles actually turned a profit hosting the Olympics in 1984 and is often singled out by experts as the best Olympics city in the world because of its exceptional sports and tourist infrastructure. Scholars of the Olympics say the IOC knows it has some serious thinking to do about how to make hosting the Olympics more sustainable. One idea is to have the Olympics rotate among a handful of host cities that have proven they can handle hosting without spending too much money and that will be able to reuse their Olympics facilities every 16 to 20 years. Another idea is to change the bidding process to actually create incentives for cities to come up with more modest and sustainable budgets rather than flashy ones. The IOC has lots of time — it doesn’t have to make the announcement for the next Olympics Games until 2025. The committee has its work cut out for it. […]

  • Why Russian figure skaters Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva are so hard to beat
    by Alex Abad-Santos on February 23, 2018 at 4:05 am

    In the women’s figure skating competition at the 2018 Olympic Games, there’s been a saying that there are three types of scores: bad, good, and Russian. During the women’s short program, which aired Tuesday night in the US, the two gold medal favorites heading into the games — Russian skaters (a.k.a. “OARs”) Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva — showed the world what that means. Zagitova finished the event with a score of 82.92 points, putting her in first place going into the women’s free skate; Medvedeva came in right behind her with a score of 81.61. The current third-place skater, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, earned a score of a 78.87, failing to break into the 80-point Russian stratosphere. To put the point gap in perspective, the difference between the top scores in figure skating is often measured in mere decimal points. For Zagitova or Medvedeva to relinquish their 3- or 4-point leads during the upcoming free skate, they’ll have to make some pretty serious mistakes. And considering how consistent both skaters have proven they can be in competition — Medvedeva was undefeated for two years until last month’s European Championships, where she came in second to Zagitova — it’s much more common to see their opponents falter before they do. So going into the women’s free skate in Pyeongchang, those opponents will have a tough task ahead of them, as these two Russians represent the best in women’s skating at the moment, as well as the sport’s best rivalry. They’re both exceptionally talented skaters, but they’re also very different. That’s led to a compelling rivalry between the two, one that’s particularly fun to watch and could make for a nail-biter of a result during the women’s free skate. Zagitova is a better jumper than Medvedeva, and figure skating’s scoring system favors jumpers If there’s one thing to remember about the current figure skating scoring system, it’s that it favors skaters who attempt difficult jumps. In some cases, falling on a difficult jump can net a skater more points than perfectly executing a less difficult jump. And Zagitova, who I’m convinced is a product of Marvel’s Black Widow Ops Program, is the women’s skater best suited to take advantage of that fact. Zagitova performs a triple lutz–triple loop combination, the highest-scoring combination in the field. Here’s her jump from the short program: Zagitova performs her triple lutz–triple loop combination during the women’s free skate in Pyeongchang.NBC As seen in the GIF above, Zagitova gets a good amount of height on her jumps and lands both of them cleanly. But the thing to look for, and what makes this particular combination so difficult, is how perfect her position is when she lands the triple lutz, and how it flows into the triple loop. A little bobble here or there could throw off the rhythm of the loop, but Zagitova is totally in control here. The judges awarded her 13.71 total points for this sequence, as reflected on her scoresheet: Zagitova’s scoresheet from her Olympics short program.ISU/Olympics That 13.71 points includes a grade of execution (GOE) score of 1.50 points; GOE scores measure how well (or poorly) a skater performs individual skating elements like jumps, footwork, and spins. The other half of Zagitova’s winning formula is strategic. Under the current scoring system, skaters receive a 10 percent bonus on any jumps they perform in the second half of their short programs and free skates. The idea is that jumps are harder for a skater to complete on tired legs. But Zagitova regularly places the jumps in her programs so that they all fall within the second half. In her free skates — which typically run about four minutes — she usually completes all seven of her jumping passes after the halfway point of her routine, so that she can fully take advantage of all available bonus points (which are factored into a jump’s base value). Here’s Zagitova’s scoresheet from her free skate during the Olympic team event last week; she’s expected to perform the same routine during the individual free skate (which will air in the US on Thursday night): Zagitova’s free skate from the team event.ISU/Olympics Note the Xs in the pink box; they denote the jumps where Zagitova earned the 10 percent bonus by performing them later in her program. This means any jumps her opponents perform in the first half of their program are already at a disadvantage because they don’t carry that 10 percent bonus. That scoring advantage plus Zagitova’s consistently excellent execution make her extremely tough to beat. Medvedeva is the goth jock artist who makes everything look easy Many skaters are either excellent jumpers or beautiful artists, but not both; Evgenia Medvedeva’s story headed into the Olympics is that she was a lock for gold because she’s the rare total package. From November 2015 until last month, she was undefeated in the figure skating circuit, with her first loss coming to Zagitova at the 2018 European Championships. Medvedeva usually kicks off the jumps in her program with a triple flip–triple toe loop combination, which is less difficult (and thus is worth fewer points) than Zagitova’s triple lutz–triple loop combo. During the short program in Pyeongchang, Medvedeva’s combination had a base value of 10.56 points, while Zagitova’s had a base value of 12.21 points. But 10.56 is nothing to sneeze at — that’s still a high-scoring combination in the women’s field. Where Medvedeva makes up ground on Zagitova is in her artistry: An example of Medvedeva’s artistry.NBC Watching Medvedeva skate can be a sublime experience (and oddly enough, her short program is about “clinical death” and the spirit leaving the body). As you can see in the GIF above, she knows how to move in a balletic way, extending her limbs, holding poses, and creating aesthetically pleasing arm positions. She also has a knack for meshing her movements with the music she’s skating to and is known for performing especially soulfully in that regard. These strengths are reflected in Medvedeva’s component score, which is separate from the technical score and focuses more on choreography and artistry than how a skater executes jumps and other program elements. To compare Zagitova and Medvedeva, here’s Zagitova’s scoresheet showing a component score of 37.62: Zagitova’s component score from the short program.ISU/Olympics And here’s Medvedeva’s scoresheet showing a component score of 38.42: Medvedeva’s component score.ISU/Olympics On Medvedeva’s scoresheet, notice the 10s from the judges in the “interpretation of the music” category. In order for Medvedeva to catch Zagitova in the free skate, she needs to keep her technical score as high as possible and hope that her component score pushes her ahead. As for the rest of the field, they will need help — in the form of falls or mistakes made by Zagitova and Medvedeva — to become true challengers for anything higher than a bronze medal, in addition to skating brilliantly themselves. That’s what figure skating fans will be watching for during the conclusion to the women’s individual event when the free skates air on the evening of Thursday, February 22, in the US. Medvedeva will skate last. […]

  • Robert Mueller’s new indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, explained
    by Andrew Prokop on February 23, 2018 at 2:08 am

    Special counsel Robert Mueller is turning up the heat on Paul Manafort and Rick Gates even higher. On Thursday, a Virginia grand jury indicted Manafort and Gates on a combined 32 counts, alleging a dizzying array of tax, financial, and bank fraud crimes, some of which took place as recently as last year. Mueller alleges that Manafort laundered more than $30 million with Gates’s help. These new charges will be considered in a separate venue from the combined 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, financial, and false statements charges Mueller filed against the two men through a Washington, DC, grand jury last October. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office confirmed to me Thursday evening that the DC case will still proceed as well, saying, “Both cases will move forward.” Now, like the first set of charges against the pair, the new charges don’t have anything to do with the topic of Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, which is Mueller’s central concern. But the special counsel’s goal is likely to increase the pressure on one or both of them to flip and cooperate with the Russian interference probe, because the indictment comes after weeks of reported discussions between Gates and Mueller’s team about a possible plea deal — discussions that, it seems, have not yet ended in an agreement, despite reports one was imminent. Even early Thursday evening, there were conflicting reports about just what was going on with Gates or which lawyer even represents him at this point, and concrete answers on that front remain elusive. The bigger picture from these new charges, though, is that Manafort and Gates are now in even more trouble and are contemplating a far longer potential sentence should they be convicted. And that could drive one or both of them to flip, should they have information incriminating President Trump or his team that Mueller would want. What Mueller’s new indictment against Manafort and Gates alleges: the big picture The new charges refer to a “scheme” from Manafort and Gates that had two separate parts. Mueller alleges: Between about 2006 and 2015 — the “first part of the scheme,” Mueller writes — Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars from their work for Ukrainian politicians and Ukraine’s government and tried to hide it from US authorities. They did so by saying the money came from “loans” from offshore corporate entities they controlled, and Manafort used his offshore accounts to buy real estate. But between about 2015 and at least January 2017, “the Ukraine income dwindled” because of the downfall of the country’s president. So during that period, which Mueller calls “the second part of the scheme,” Manafort and Gates “fraudulently secured more than twenty million dollars in loans,” the indictment alleges. They used the real estate Manafort had purchased with his offshore funds as collateral and lied about their company’s income and their existing debt to lenders. Overall, the indictment alleges that Manafort, with Gates’s “assistance,” laundered $30 million and concealed it from the US government, while Gates himself obtained more than $3 million, which he also concealed. The basics of what Mueller dubs the “first part of the scheme” were mostly known already from last fall’s indictment. What’s added here are several charges specifically related to taxes. These may be coming later because, per an earlier report from the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, there is a “time-consuming” process for getting those charges approved by the Justice Department’s Tax Division. The new charges include crimes allegedly committed much more recently However, the allegations said to be the “second part of the scheme” are new. Mueller alleges that in the year before and even during the presidential campaign, Manafort used misrepresentations, false statements, and doctored documents to repeatedly get multimillion-dollar loans from financial institutions. Mueller alleges, among other things: That in October 2016, Manafort and Gates altered a document to claim their company would make $3.5 million, when it was in fact set to lose $600,000, and that they sent that doctored document to a lender That in March 2016, Manafort and Gates gave a document to a different lender overstating their income by more than $2 million — and worked with a “conspirator” working at the lending company to get an approval That, also in March 2016, Manafort and Gates butted heads with their bookkeeper, who refused to allow them to claim $2.4 million in income they hadn’t received — leading Gates to falsify the document himself and submit it to yet another lender That in 2016, Manafort falsely claimed a condo he was using as a rental property as a second home, and wrote in an email that he was doing so “in order to have the maximum benefit,” and tried to falsely convince a bank appraiser that his son-in-law lived there And that Manafort falsely told a lender that $300,000 he had in credit card debt had in fact been incurred because he “lent his credit card to a friend” who would soon pay him back — that friend being Gates Overall, the indictment paints a picture of two men desperate for millions in loans — apparently to prevent Manafort’s financial house of cards from collapsing once the Ukraine money stopped coming in — and unscrupulous about how they’d get them. As to why the new charges were filed in Virginia — rather than in DC along with the first set of charges — Mueller writes that he concluded that, based on the evidence he has, “venue for these charges does not exist in the District of Columbia” (apparently because neither man actually lived in the city). He adds that he could only have brought the charges in DC “if the defendants were willing to waive venue,” but that one defendant (Manafort) refused to do so, “as is his right.” Manafort and Gates have not yet entered their plea for the new charges. They pleaded not guilty to all the charges filed last fall. But the big question, of course, is whether they’ll continue to hold firm going forward. […]

  • Vox Sentences: School’s out in West Virginia
    by Ella Nilsen on February 23, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Ella Nilsen. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions. Rain and melting snow cause rising floods in the Midwest; West Virginia teachers walk off the job to protest low pay. Parts of the Midwest are underwater Joshua Lott/Getty Images Parts of the Midwest from Texas to Michigan are experiencing severe flooding this week, some of it reaching historic levels. [Associated Press] In some states, the flooding has claimed lives. At least two people have been reported dead due to floods, including a 1-year-old girl in Michigan’s Fairplain Township and a woman outside of Chicago whose car rolled over into a ditch that was full of rain. [NPR / Amy Held] The rapid rise of the water is coming from a combination of factors, including unusually heavy winter rains as well as warm temperatures melting the snow. [mLive / Tanda Gmiter] Some people in small towns in Illinois and Indiana put sandbags around their properties and fled the area as the water rose. Some said they did not expect to return for the next few days, until the waters receded. [Reuters] Certain cities and counties in Michigan have declared states of emergency and closed numerous roads that were too dangerous to travel on. [mLive / Michael Kransz] Current rainfall has already totaled several inches and isn’t supposed to let up throughout the weekend; the National Weather Service has issued flood watches and warnings in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. [ABC News / Max Golembo] Frustrated by low pay, West Virginia teachers walk off the job Teachers across West Virginia walked off the job on Thursday and marched to the state capitol building in Charleston to protest low wages and insufficient benefits, causing the vast majority of public schools to close. [WVNews / Jake Jarvis] All of the state’s 55 counties had teachers participating in the planned two-day walkout, and about 275,000 students missed class. [CNN / Sarah Jorgensen] Teachers and staff were protesting a 2 percent pay raise passed by the legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, saying the money wasn’t enough to cover the rising cost of their health insurance plans. [WSJ / Kris Maher] Teacher pay in the state is low; beginning teachers earn $32,435 per year on average, while the average salary is $44,701, according to the state’s Education Association. In 2016, West Virginia ranked 48th in average teacher salaries, higher only than Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. [Washington Post / Sarah Larimer] Miscellaneous If you think your roommate situation is bad, get a load of these horror stories. [NYMag / William Brennan] Sweden is trying to Russia-proof its elections. The country is training local election workers to spot and resist foreign influence. [Washington Post / Michael Birnbaum] A pair of Canadian figure skaters who have been skating together for 21 years just won gold at the Olympics, making them the most decorated figure skaters in Olympics history. But because the internet can never be satisfied, now everyone needs to know if they’re dating. [Time / Raisa Bruner] How would humans react if we found out aliens exist? Actually, fairly receptively, according to one researcher. [Atlantic / Marina Koren] Verbatim “The old one did — one hemisphere of it gave tons of apples, albeit tiny ones. Peeling them felt like peeling a doll’s fruit. When sliced each section was the size of a garlic clove. The peach tree was the star, her thin arms laden with fruit the size of tangerines, and as sweet.” [BuzzFeed / Sandra Allen] Watch this: How the economy shapes our love lives Dating in the US has been around for 100 years and it’s always been tied to the economy. [YouTube / Dean Peterson] Read more Ice dance is about selling romance. Olympians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are brilliant marketers. The immigration debate is about whether Latinos are “real Americans” Puerto Rico’s blackout, the largest in American history, explained Trump’s quiet campaign to bring back preexisting conditions What you missed in Wednesday night’s intense CNN town hall on gun violenc […]

  • Sheriff: armed officer at Florida school “never went in” even as he heard gunfire
    by German Lopez on February 22, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    It seems like a scenario where a massacre should have been stopped: An armed officer was on the scene. He could hear gunfire. Yet he didn’t go after the gunman — letting the shooting carry on for minutes that literally meant life or death. According to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, that’s exactly what happened at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Even with training and a weapon, the officer stalled — and allowed the shooting to continue for about four to six minutes as he stood outside the building. The deputy, Scot Peterson, has since quit. “Devastated. Sick to my stomach. There are no words. These families lost their children. We lost coaches. I’ve been to the funerals,” Israel said at a press conference on Thursday. Asked what the officer should have done, Israel responded, “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.” This is more than just another horrific detail about the mass shooting that killed 17 people; it also directly contradicts the notion that simply putting a bunch of armed personnel in schools will stop shooters — the “good guy with a gun” theory. As National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre put it following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Basically, if more people are armed, they can stop violence before it gets worse or prevent it altogether. The latest revelations about the officer’s failure to act in the Florida shooting are a devastating example of this theory not working as planned. But the evidence suggests this shouldn’t be too surprising. Even when people are armed, they often fail to properly respond to a mass shooting. Stopping a mass shooting is hard, even with firearm training Multiple simulations have demonstrated that most people, if placed in an active shooter situation while armed, will not be able to stop the situation, and may in fact do little more than get themselves killed in the process. This video, from ABC News, shows one such simulation, in which people repeatedly fail to shoot an active shooter before they’re shot: As Chris Benton, a police investigator in Pennsylvania, told ABC News, “Video games and movies, they glorify gunfights. [People] get that warped sense that this is true — this video game is exactly what I can do in real life. That’s not reality.” The Daily Show also put this theory to the test in another — more comedic — simulation segment. Jordan Klepper, who was a correspondent with the show at the time, trained on the basics of using a firearm and got a concealed carry permit that was valid in 30 states. Then he participated in mass shooting simulations to see how he would hold up in such a scenario. He failed — miserably. In his final test, which simulated a school shooting, he shot an unarmed civilian, and he was shot multiple times by the active shooters and even law enforcement, who mistook him for the bad guy. He never took down the active shooters. The fundamental problem is that mass shootings are traumatizing, terrifying events. Without potentially dozens or even hundreds of hours in training, most people are not going to be able to control their emotions and survey the scene in time to quickly and properly respond. “There’s never enough training,” Coby Briehn, a senior instructor at Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, told Klepper. “You can never get enough.” The FBI’s analysis of active shooters between 2000 and 2013 has another relevant data point: “Law enforcement suffered casualties in 21 (46.7%) of the 45 incidents where they engaged the shooter to end the threat.” These are people trained to do this kind of thing full time, and nearly half were wounded or killed. None of that is to say that a “good guy with a gun” won’t ever be able to stop a shooter. We have seen some high-profile cases in which that happened. But the bulk of the findings, from news investigations to the FBI’s report to The Daily Show, suggest that this idea is often going to play out very differently than supporters like President Trump envision — and sometimes could lead to more innocent people getting caught in the chaotic crossfire. If America wants to confront its gun violence problem, the research suggests it should look to reducing the number of guns in circulation — not putting more armed people into schools. […]

  • Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva is as talented as she is terrifying
    by Alex Abad-Santos on February 22, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    There is no figure skater I like more than Evgenia Medvedeva. There is also no figure skater I’m more afraid of than Evgenia Medvedeva. Medvedeva, an 18-year-old Russian phenom, has been dominating women’s figure skating since she began competing at the senior level in 2015. From November 2015 until this past January, she went undefeated in every competition she entered, and in doing so became one of the heavy favorites to win gold in at the 2018 Winter Olympics. When she finally did lose, it was to the other gold medal favorite, when she came in second to fellow Russian skater Alina Zagitova at the 2018 European Championships in Moscow. Medvedeva’s unique ability to combine the athleticism of triple jumps with the artistry of a ballerina makes her a once-in-a-decade type of skater. Usually, a skater is either a strong jumper or a strong artist, but rarely both. But what I love about Medvedeva isn’t just how good she is at what she does, but rather how much of a goth jock weirdo she is. Acting and creating an image is a major element of figure skating Olympic figure skating isn’t unlike the Hollywood celebrity industry. First off, NBC regularly airs amazing fluff profiles designed to make you understand why you should be rooting for a particular skater in under a minute. Maybe a skater has been chasing their Olympic dreams for their whole life. Perhaps they are coming back from injury. Sometimes they have the weight of an entire country on their shoulders: Whatever the case may be, these profiles tend to reduce skaters’ backstories to easily consumable morsels. Then, when those skaters eventually take the ice, they spend two or four minutes, depending on whether they’re performing a short program or a long one, embodying different characters. At the 1996 World Championships, American skater Michelle Kwan became the temptress known as Salomé in her free skate; two years later, at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she performed as a heavenly cherub to her “Lyra Angelica.” At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Korean skater Yuna Kim was a flirty, winking Bond girl in her Olympic short program, then performed to George Gershwin for her free skate. And elsewhere in the sport, there are ice dancing pairs like Meryl Davis and Charlie White or Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who’ve become incredibly famous for selling artificial yet completely believable romance during their routines. As amazing as these programs and performances are, it’s easy to feel like you’re never seeing the real skater behind the routine. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true of Medvedeva, whose recent programs all tend to align with similar themes. The weird, macabre sentiments in her routines don’t feel like coincidence so much as they feel like a peek into a someone’s morbid psyche. Medvedeva’s past routines have touched on death, 9/11, and getting hit by a train Many of Medvedeva’s programs appear to echo a consistent statement: The looming specter of death waits for us all. Beneath their artistry and elegance, Medvedeva’s most recent performances, both before and during the Olympics, would seem to indicate that she’s spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about human mortality. One need look no further than her 2017 World Championship-winning free skate to the soundtrack of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; as part of that particular routine, she performed a footwork sequence to real audio recordings from 9/11 news broadcasts, which included the voice of President George W. Bush. The program was no doubt controversial. Only recently have skaters been allowed to skate to music with lyrics (as opposed to purely instrumental arrangements), and many people thought that Medvedeva’s interpretation of 9/11-related audio as “lyrics” was tacky and disrespectful. But no matter how inappropriate you might believe her decision to be, judges who saw the resulting program during the 2016–’17 figuring skating season (where she won gold at every competition she skated in) thought she skated beautifully. Medvedeva’s apparent fascination with doom and death has continued into 2018 with her short program in Pyeongchang. The program is set to Chopin’s “Nocturne in C-Sharp minor,” a song with its own riveting legacy, as Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp reportedly played it so beautifully on the piano that she and her sister were initially spared from being sent to a concentration camp. But Medvedeva has said that the program is a contemplation on “clinical death” and the moment the spirit leaves the body: At a couple different points in the program, Medvedeva even pantomimes last breaths. And in her free skate, which will air in the US Thursday night, she’ll perform to the soundtrack of 2012’s Anna Karenina, complete with the mordant choo-choo of an oncoming train. (In both the source novel and the film, Anna despairingly throws herself in front of an oncoming train.): Granted, figure skating is about drama and emotion, no matter how manipulative it may be. Medvedeva, in choosing these bleak themes, appears to be conscious of that. But I’d be more inclined to believe view her apparent fascination with death as merely a put-on persona if her resume didn’t also include a program that casts her as a zombie bride, which she performed at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup gala exhibition: To be clear, as NBC has pointed out in some of its aforementioned skater profiles, Medvedeva has other interests — including anime and dancing. And you can see evidence of that in the 2017 routine where she performed as the anime character Sailor Moon: But what I really want to believe is that Medvedeva just feels so deeply and is so consumed by the idea of mortality that she can’t help but incorporate that idea into her skating. I’d like to think that if I ever met her face-to-face, she would look past the present version me and into my future, so as to imagine the different ways I might die and the look on my face as it happened. Then she’d think about the perfect song to encapsulate such a moment, were she to portray it on the ice. Medvedeva will skate for the final time in Pyeongchang during the women’s free skate, which airs Thursday, February 22, in in the US. […]

  • Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’s sexual blackmail scandal, explained
    by Dylan Matthews on February 22, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Eric Greitens used to be one of the Republican Party’s biggest rising stars. A Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and a doctorate in refugee studies, he founded a nonprofit serving fellow vets. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen called him “one of the most remarkable young men I have ever encountered.” Greitens switched parties and successfully ran for Missouri governor as a Republican in 2016, defeating multiple established politicians along the way. The country’s second-youngest governor at 43, he was well-positioned for a future Senate run, or even a presidential bid. A profile during the gubernatorial campaign declared, “If the man has an Achilles’ heel, it’s perfection.” But on February 22, he was indicted on a felony charge of invasion of privacy and led away by the St. Louis Sheriff’s office. The indictment, which could result in up to seven years of prison time, comes barely a month after the local CBS affiliate KMOV reported that he cheated on his wife, secretly took photos of the woman he cheated with, and attempted to blackmail the woman into silence by threatening to release the photos. When the news broke in January, Greitens and his wife portrayed the matter as simple infidelity in a statement after the story broke, with the standard language politicians use when caught in extramarital affairs: “There was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage. This was a deeply personal mistake … we have emerged stronger.” Greitens’s attorney, James F. Bennett, denied the blackmail claim, saying the KMOV News 4 report “contained multiple false allegations.” But the scandal isn’t going away. It’s the first time since the national reckoning over sexual misconduct began in October that a sitting governor has been publicly accused of wrongdoing, much less charged with a sex crime. Greitens is sure to face building calls for his resignation as a trial nears and new details of his offenses continue to accumulate. What Greitens allegedly did KMOV News 4 investigative reporters Lauren Trager and John O’Sullivan based their report (a video of which you can view here) on a recording of the woman with whom Greitens had the affair, provided to the station by the woman’s ex-husband. The recording, taken in March 2015 without the woman’s knowledge, depicts her and her then-husband discussing the affair. It was made days after Greitens and the woman first had sex, according to the ex-husband. The woman and Greitens met at a hair salon where she worked and where he was a client, according to her account on the tape. He invited her back to his house; she initially just wanted to get coffee, but he insisted on going to his place. She agreed, initially just to talk. Here’s how the woman describes the encounter: He said: “I’ll make you feel better. I’ll make you feel good. Come downstairs. I want to show you how to do a proper pull-up.” And I knew he was being sexual and I still let him. And he used some sort of tape, I don’t what it was, and taped my hands to these rings and then put a blindfold on me … I didn’t even know. I feel like I don’t even know. I was just numb. I just stood there and didn’t (expletive) know. Then, she says, “I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said: ‘You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise there will be pictures of me everywhere.’” “He took a picture of my wife naked as blackmail. There is no worse person,” the ex-husband told KMOV News 4. While he took to social media during the governor’s campaign to call Greitens a “homewrecker,” the ex-husband told News 4 that he initially didn’t want to speak out too publicly. That changed because he was “contacted by law enforcement authorities and members of the media. He says he wanted to get in front of a story he believed would come out eventually and he wants to protect his family.” His attorney Al Watkins confirmed to News 4 that he and his client have been in touch with law enforcement. TPM’s Allegra Kirkland spoke to the ex-husband’s lawyer, and Missouri Democratic operative Roy Temple, who both reported that the ex-husband mentioned that Greitens slapped the woman before sex. The ex-husband mentioned this in his interview with KMOV, though it didn’t make the final edit. Temple told TPM, “Before engaging in sex, Greitens asked if she had had sex with anyone since their last encounter. According to the account he gave me, she replied that she had had sex with her husband, at which time Greitens slapped her.” The legal and political fallout The “invasion of privacy” statute under which Greitens has been charged applies to cases where a defendant “knowingly photographs or films another person, without the person’s knowledge and consent, while the person being photographed or filmed is in a state of full or partial nudity and is in a place where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the person subsequently distributes the photograph or film to another or transmits the image contained in the photograph or film in a manner that allows access to that image via a computer.” It is a class D felony, carrying a prison sentence of up to seven years. Beyond the criminal issues at stake, the matter is set to derail Greitens’s administration barely a year in. Greitens was fairly popular before the scandal — 20 percent more Missourians approved than disapproved of him in polling last October — but the indictment follows more than a few major clashes during his first year in office. Greitens pushed through a law making Missouri a right-to-work state; while today the state has relatively few union members, historically its brewing industry has been heavily unionized. Opponents have successfully forced a referendum on the issue onto the 2018 ballot, suspending the law’s enforcement in the process. More damaging were revelations that his gubernatorial campaign relied heavily on massive amounts of dark money from wealthy donors. Missouri has historically had among the laxest campaign finance laws of any state; this upcoming election will be the first one in which state candidates face any contribution limits at all. Before, anyone — individuals, corporations, unions, PACs — could give an unlimited amount to campaigns. That changed with a 2016 ballot measure that finally enacted limits, which passed 70 percent to 30 but which Greitens opposed. But even by the state’s lax standards, Greitens stood out. During the governor’s race, he received $1.975 million in one day, and no one knows where it came from. It went from a Super PAC called SEALS for Truth to Greitens’s campaign, and to SEALS for Truth from a nonprofit called American Policy Coalition. This is an easy way to use Super PACs and nonprofits to evade donor disclosure, but it’s rarely done as brazenly as in Greitens’s case. There’s more, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Kevin McDermott recaps in this helpful piece. Greitens was fined for not disclosing how his campaign got the donor list from his nonprofit, the Mission Continues; the Associated Press found that the campaign raised nearly $2 million from the Mission Continues donors, despite Greitens’s denials that he used the group’s list to fundraise. He has also refused to release his individual tax returns; the amounts that companies, wealth individuals, and lobbyists donated to his inauguration parties; and the funders of A New Missouri, a nonprofit he founded as governor to promote his agenda. The inauguration issue took on new prominence after his administration offered a no-bid contract to one of the inauguration donors. It’s hard to evaluate if there was a quid pro quo involved, because no one knows how much the firm actually gave Greitens; he refuses to disclose the numbers. Members of the Missouri legislature introduced bills attempting to demand disclosure from secretive nonprofits like A New Missouri after it aired an attack ad against State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican critic of Greitens, and displayed Schaaf’s personal cellphone number for viewers to call. Greitens has defended his conduct by comparing dark money to the secret ballot: “The people who believe in voter intimidation believe that the minute you make a political donation, that you immediately need to turn all your information over to the government. … When people go in and they vote, nobody calls that dark voting.” All that wasn’t enough to send Greitens’s approval rating underwater. But an indictment for sexual blackmail and assault should be. […]

  • America’s immigration agency removes “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement
    by Dara Lind on February 22, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    US Citizenship and Immigration Services isn’t for immigrants anymore. That’s not an exaggeration. USCIS, the federal agency responsible for issuing visas and green cards and for naturalizing immigrants as US citizens, has unveiled a new mission statement that strips out all references to immigrants themselves — including taking out a line that called the US a “nation of immigrants.” And in an email to agency staff Thursday, as first reported by the Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, director L. Francis Cissna bragged about the change — saying that USCIS wasn’t supposed to help immigrants and the US citizens seeking to sponsor them, but rather “the American people.” The new mission statement, and Cissna’s justification, downplays the agency’s commitment to helping immigrants become American citizens and plays up the idea that US citizens attempting to bring their family members to the US don’t count as real Americans whose interests deserve to be protected. USCIS’s new mission statement doesn’t just reflect the Trump administration’s hawkishness toward legal as well as unauthorized immigration. It encourages the notion that Americanness is a matter of blood and soil, of birth and descent, rather than an idea that anyone can be proud of regardless of where they were born. Taking “citizenship” out of the mission of Citizenship and Immigration Services The changes to the USCIS mission statement don’t change the work the agency actually does. But they make a symbolic statement that the Trump administration sees that work differently not just from how the Obama administration did, but from our traditional understanding of what Americanness means. It’s not just the removal of the “nation of immigrants” line. The new mission statement removes all references to citizenship — instead of “immigration and citizenship benefits,” USCIS now just provides “immigration benefits,” and “promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship” is kicked out of the mission entirely. At the same time as the agency is deemphasizing the part of its job that involves turning immigrants into citizens, its new mission implies that the two groups — immigrants and Americans — are naturally in conflict: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values. Cissna’s email also told USCIS staff that they’re not supposed to call applicants “customers” anymore because their real customers aren’t immigrants — they’re the American people: Referring to applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits, and the beneficiaries of such applications and petitions, as ‘customers’ promotes an institutional culture that emphasizes the ultimate satisfaction of applicants and petitioners, rather than the correct adjudication of such applications and petitions according to the law. [...] Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve.” [emphasis added] It’s an odd statement to make. For one thing, USCIS is the rare federal agency that isn’t primarily funded through taxes — most of the money to run the agency comes from application fees. Immigrants applying for visas, green cards, and citizenship — and the US citizens and companies that have to sponsor some of those applications — are paying USCIS for the services they provide. By a commonsense definition, that’s what a customer is. But what’s even more jarring than the redefinition of “customer” is the definition of “American.” Cissna’s statement strongly implies that “applicants and petitioners” don’t count as part of the “American people.” That might make sense if he were talking just about people newly coming to the US, or even if he were distinguishing “Americans” from noncitizens. But he’s not. The “applicants” Cissna refers to include immigrants who are applying for US citizenship — the part of USCIS’s function that got stripped out of the mission statement. Not only does the new mission statement suggest that helping immigrants become Americans is no longer part of USCIS’ job, but by distinguishing “applicants” from “the American people,” it suggests that they can’t. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of petitioners for immigrants are US citizens petitioning for family members (or American businesses petitioning for employees). Those citizens may have been born abroad, but they’ve naturalized. They are as American as anyone else. Does the Trump administration believe immigrants can integrate? USCIS tends to be the most obscure of the Department of Homeland Security’s three immigration agencies, precisely because it’s the one that doesn’t deal with immigration enforcement (Customs and Border Protection addresses border enforcement; Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes care of interior enforcement). But immigrant rights advocates have been worried about the agency. Cissna worked for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair (and immigration hawk) Chuck Grassley (R-IA) before being appointed to USCIS. The agency’s ombudsman office, which is supposed to provide transparency to the people who used to be called “customers,” is headed by Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform — a group whose mission includes reducing legal immigration to the US. There are already indications that the new leadership is encouraging applications to be processed more slowly and with more scrutiny. In winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, they were more aggressive than Trump’s statements implied. At the same time, there’s been an apparent slowdown in the processing of naturalization applications and of work permits for some categories of immigrants. By overhauling the mission statement, it’s clear that the new leadership wants to be noticed. […]