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Oct. 5 2015 11:22 PM

Big Money Fantasy Sports Gaming Faces Questions About Fairness and Employee Insider Info

The multi-billion dollar fantasy sports industry came under increased scrutiny Monday after an employee of DraftKings, one of the two major daily fantasy gaming sites, was found to have inadvertently released data that could have given certain players an advantage and raised questions about who has access to the internal data at each company and how it could be used to unfairly tilt the odds in a particular person's favor.

An individual who has access to data on which players have been selected by other contestants, while not sure to win by any stretch, could use that to select less favored players, which if they had a high scoring game, could give the fantasy owner a significant advantage. While it might sound like a small error among friends, the daily games at DraftKings and its rival FanDuel, offer purses from contestants entry fees that now reach into the millions of dollars.

The DraftKings employee who spilled the data online before the rosters were set, enabling contestants to potentially play off the information, says it was inadvertent. Both companies prohibit their employees from competing on their own sites, but many play on competitors’ sites. And as luck—or not luck at all—would have it, this very same DraftKings employee in question won a whopping $350,000 for finishing second in last week’s FanDuel NFL Sunday Million competition. “The contest, which cost $25 to enter, featured $5 million in cash winnings, including $1 million to the winner,” according to ESPN. “A DraftKings spokesman acknowledged that employees of both companies have earned sizable prizes playing at other daily fantasy sites.”

On Monday, both companies barred employees from participating in competitions on other sites, according the New York Times, as they tried to reassure customers of the integrity of their games. “DraftKings and FanDuel posted on their sites an unusual joint statement saying they have no evidence anyone misused information for profit,” the Associated Press reports. “The broader issue is whether players who put up entry fees to try and win money in the contests can be sure that insiders — or anyone else — is getting an unfair advantage.” The fantasy gaming industry managed to escape regulatory oversight when first established because the contests were deemed games of skill, not chance, and are legal in all but five states. “But because Congress did not foresee how fantasy sports would explode, one member, Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, recently requested a hearing to explore the relationship between fantasy sports and gambling,” the Times reports.

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Oct. 5 2015 8:59 PM

1.8 Million Cheerios Boxes Labeled Gluten-Free Recalled for Containing Gluten

General Mills announced on Monday it is recalling 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios after discovering the boxes, despite a gluten-free label, are not actually free from gluten. The cereal was produced in California where the company says wheat flour was mistakenly used instead of gluten-free oat flour. “The use of wheat flour means the cereals are not gluten-free, and people with conditions like wheat allergies or celiac disease who consume them might suffer an allergic reaction or discomfort,” the Associated Press notes.

The recall comes just months after General Mills announced it had come up with a way to make its Cheerio-brand cereals gluten-free (via the AP):

The recall comes shortly after General Mills launched gluten-free Cheerios. Earlier this year the company said it found a way to remove small amounts of wheat, rye and barley that are unintentionally added to oat supplies when the oats are being grown or transported. It started shipping gluten-free Cheerios in five flavors in July.

“We sincerely apologize to the gluten-free community and to anyone who may have been impacted,” the president of General Mills Jim Murphy wrote in a blog post on the company website Monday. Murphy said he was “embarrassed” that the mishap occurred and it was the result of human error at the plant, rather than a problem with the company’s flour supply.

Oct. 5 2015 7:52 PM

California Governor Signs Law Giving Terminally Ill “Right to Die”

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Monday legislation that allows terminally ill people to end their lives. The signing of the End of Life Option Act makes California the fifth state to pass so-called “right to die” or “assisted suicide” legislation, along with Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.

Under the new law, only terminally ill individuals, expecting to die within six months would be eligible to receive a lethal dose of drugs prescribed by a doctor. “The bill includes requirements that patients be physically capable of taking the medication themselves, that two doctors approve it, that the patients submit several written requests and that there be two witnesses, one of whom is not a family member,” according to the Associated Press. The law will not go into effect until 90 days after the state legislature adjourns, which likely won’t happen until early in 2016.

The decision whether to sign the bill appeared to be a deeply personal one for Brown, a Catholic, who once attended a Jesuit seminary. "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," Brown wrote on Monday. "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."

“Brown said he carefully considered input from two of his own doctors, a Catholic bishop and advocates for the disabled, as well as pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, a cancer victim who took her own life,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “Most Republican lawmakers opposed the bill on moral grounds [while] Democrats who voted against it cited religious views or experiences in which family members given months to live by doctors had lived for years.”

Oct. 5 2015 5:49 PM

Is the Violence in Israel and the West Bank the Start of a Third Intifada? 

Israeli police have limited access to the Old City of Jerusalem after two Israelis were killed and three injured by Palestinians in separate stabbing incidents. The restrictions allow only Israeli citizens, tourists, and residents into the Old City, effectively banning Palestinians from East Jerusalem from entering the area. As they have during past periods of unrest, authorities have also banned praying at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, on what Jews call the Temple Mount. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also announced new security measures including the “administrative detention”— jailing without trial—of rioters and terrorism suspects and reintroduced the controversial policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes, all of which is likely to further stoke Palestinian anger.

The developments follow three weeks of violence and retaliation which began around Rosh Hashanah with clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters. The Jewish New Year is often a tense period in Jerusalem, as it brings an increase in visits by Jews to the Temple Mount. Protests have continued since then and tensions have increased over the shooting of an 18-year-old Palestinian woman by the IDF at a checkpoint in Hebron (the IDF says she was armed with a knife, Palestinians disagree) and the gunning down of an Israeli settler couple by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank as they were driving their children.

As with previous periods of increased violence, many are asking if we are witnessing the beginning of a third Intifada, the term for the widespread uprisings in 1987 and 2000. The Israeli tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth touted “The Third Intifada” on Monday’s front page. The German government, ahead of a planned visit from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that one could be about to begin.  And on the Palestinian side, one senior member of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party called the recent events “signs of a third intifada.”

The level of violence hasn’t reached anything close to what was seen during the second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, when more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians were killed, but as Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer argues, what’s striking about the current situation is that the lulls between outbreaks of violence have become barely noticeable, suggesting a kind of stealth Intifada has already begun.

When people talk about a new “Intifada,” what they seem to mean is a dramatic change in the status quo, an escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence beyond what’s become tragically routine. Abbas, who says he does not want an Intifada, but that Israel’s actions may make one inevitable, could have initiated such an escalation in his supposedly “bombshell” U.N. speech last week by announcing the suspension of the Palestinian authority which theoretically governs the West Bank in cooperation Israel or canceling the cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security authorities. But the Palestinian president, who has too much to lose by taking such drastic steps, stopped short of that, making it likely that after the current round of increased tension and violence, things will go back to normal—which is plenty bad already.

Oct. 5 2015 5:05 PM

Chicago Prosecutor Won't Reopen Cases of Convicts Who, Per Official Investigation, Are Likely Innocent

Here's a big story from BuzzFeed: The Cook County, Illinois state's attorney's office will not reopen the cases of four men convicted in part because of a controversial police officer named Reynaldo Guevara despite the conclusion of an official investigation that they are most likely innocent. The existence of the investigation, commissioned by mayor Rahm Emanuel and conducted by former U.S. attorney Scott Lassar, was publicly known, as was prosecutor Anita Alvarez's decision not to reopen the cases—but BuzzFeed has obtained a court-sealed copy of the investigation and reported for the first time that it concludes that three of the convicts are "more likely than not" innocent and that one "more likely than not" did not shoot the man he was convicted of shooting.

The four men are Roberto Almodovar, Robert Bouto, Jose Montanez, and Armando Serrano. The police officer who links their cases, Guevara, also investigated two men—Juan Johnson and Jacques Rivera—who have already been freed in high-profile wrongful-conviction cases. Chicago paid $15 million to settle a lawsuit that Johnson filed after he was retried and acquitted.

The Cook County prosecutor's office said in a statement to BuzzFeed that the mayor-commissioned report “made credibility determinations that are contrary to the opinions of the Office of the State’s Attorney, contrary to those made by the triers of fact in each of these cases, and contrary to those made by the Judges that have presided over these cases for decades" and added that Cook County has "no new credible evidence or information to suggest that these convictions should be vacated."

Oct. 5 2015 3:50 PM

Could George W. Bush Save Jeb’s Listless Campaign?

It was Jeb Bush’s last name that probably kept him from running for president in 2008 and 2012, when memory of his brother’s tumultuous time in office was still quite fresh. And it was Jeb Bush’s last name that seemed like enough of a liability as he entered the 2016 race that his posters and slogans refer to him simply as Jeb! But now, as the establishment favorite struggles mightily in the face of considerable anti-establishment headwinds, Jeb’s advisers are beginning to wonder if that same name might be what can save his listless campaign before it’s too late.

The New York Times reports that Bush’s team “has begun exploring” the idea of trotting George W. Bush out on the campaign trail in South Carolina to give Jeb a “boost with skeptical conservatives” in a state where he may need to make a crucial stand early next year.

The idea, according to the Times, originally came from Palmetto State party officials but has since gained significant traction at Jeb’s campaign HQ. “To the extent it makes sense on the campaign, we’re going to be happy to have his support, and I know President Bush is willing to help,” Tim Miller, Bush’s communications director, told the paper. Miller hinted that George could appear at South Carolina rallies for his brother in the lead-up to the state’s February primary, the third nominating contest on the 2016 political calendar and one that might prove particularly important for Jeb given his current also-ran status in the first two, Iowa and New Hampshire.

While Bush has already enlisted his older brother to help solicit big-dollar donations from his family’s sprawling network of the conservative rich and richer, a public appearance from 43 would represent a major shift in strategy for a candidate who has for months tried to escape any and all talk of a political dynasty and avoid being tied to his brother's presidency. Images of George and Jeb standing arm in arm onstage in Columbia or Charleston or Greenville would make that impossible.

Using the former president as a high-profile surrogate would be a major gamble for Jeb. Democrats are already dreaming of the attack-ad fuel that such appearances would provide them for the general election if Jeb makes it that far. And, more immediately, Bush would risk further cementing himself as a political insider at a time when the outsider trio of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina sit 1-2-3 in the national GOP polls.

While those risks are indeed real, they might be overstated—or, more specifically, the Hail Mary might pose less of a risk to Jeb than sticking with a game plan that has taken him from the presumed GOP favorite to a political punching bag in a matter of months. What would he have to lose?

Bush can’t lose the general election if he doesn’t win the primary first. And while liberals still have W.-PTSD, conservative voters tend to have fond memories of the last Bush administration. A New York Times/CBS News survey from this spring found that 71 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of George W. Bush compared with only 10 percent who said they had an opposite one. While there hasn’t been any state-specific public polling done on the issue, South Carolina is believed to be particularly Bush-friendly terrain.

Using George would mean Jeb would need to abandon his I’m-my-own-man routine—but it’s not as though he’s been performing that to rave reviews on the campaign trail. Remember, Jeb’s first major campaign stumble came earlier this year when he struggled for days to find an answer to an Iraq War hypothetical that he and his team should have seen coming from 7,000 miles away. At last month’s CNN debate, meanwhile, Bush’s best received line of the night came when he defended his brother’s record on terrorism in the wake of Sept. 11, a talking point he made sure to repeat on social media and elsewhere in the days that followed.

Through it all, Jeb’s had to twist himself into rhetorical pretzels to avoid the perception that his first term would effectively be his brother’s third. When pressed by reporters on the campaign trail to say where he differs from W., Jeb has a tendency to lament the fact that his brother didn’t use his veto pen to rein in congressional spending. In his next breath, though, he’s normally quick to argue the president didn’t really have much choice in the matter. “Part of that related to the efforts to fight—you know, create the homeland security efforts and to fight the wars and all this,” the GOP hopeful said last week during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “He needed the support to maintain that.”

Jeb’s last name might not be on his campaign signs, but voters don’t need a Bush family Christmas card to remind them that he’s the brother and son of presidents. Given that, if he can’t right the ship soon, he might have no other choice but to stop trying to limit the political price of embracing his family name and start trying to maximize the rewards that come with it.

Oct. 5 2015 3:27 PM

The Monday Slatest: Hillary Launches Gun Control Plan, Florida Libertarian Drinks Goat’s Blood

Hello, Slatest readers. Here's what's in the news on ... [squints at calendar] Monday.

Have a good day out there.

Oct. 5 2015 3:04 PM

How Russia Is Already Scuttling U.S. Plans in Syria

In July, Turkey and Jordan agreed to cooperate with the U.S. to set up and enforce aerial safe zones to protect civilians and rebels in the north and south of Syria. But the Financial Times suggested on Sunday that Russia’s new air campaign in Syria has effectively scuttled that plan. As analyst Justin Bronk of the Royal United Service Institute told the Financial Times, “The Russian forces now in place make it very, very obvious that any kind of no-fly zone … is now impossible, unless the coalition is actually willing to shoot down Russian aircraft.”

The Obama administration might not be too sad about the end of the safe zones. The Turkish government, as well as congressional hawks like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have been calling for years for the establishment of no-fly zones in Syria enforced by U.S. military power to prevent Assad’s planes and helicopters from bombing civilians and rebel forces. The Obama administration, which has sought to avoid direct confrontation between U.S. and Syrian forces, has been skeptical about the idea, with national security spokesman Ben Rhodes arguing back in 2013 that the zones are not some type of silver bullet and that it would be “dramatically more difficult and dangerous and costly in Syria” than it had been in Libya.  

Then, in July of this year, Turkey agreed to cooperate with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, with Turkey allowing U.S. planes to use its bases for the first time. In exchange, Turkey, which has generally been more concerned about fighting Assad than ISIS, demanded the no-fly zone. After negotiations, the two sides agreed in general terms to set up an ISIS-free “safe zone” in a 60-mile strip along the Turkish-Syrian border between the border crossing at Kilis and the Euphrates River. U.S. officials said it would have “nearly the same effect” as a no-fly zone.

If you’re wondering what that means, you’re not alone. Civilians in the area were pretty confused too. No-fly zones, which the U.S. has previous helped enforce in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and the Balkans as well as in Libya, are, in effect, a warning to another country’s air force that it will be engaged if it operates in a given area. But it was never exactly clear what the U.S. would do if Assad tried to drop bombs inside the safe zone, not a far-fetched scenario given his penchant for testing U.S. red lines.

The deployment of Russian jets and anti-aircraft systems to Syria makes it much less likely that anything resembling a no-fly zone will be established. If U.S. jets wouldn’t attack Syrian helicopters carrying barrels full of dynamite and nails, they certainly aren’t going to attack Russian Sukhois. Instead, the administration’s new plan in Syria, according to the New York Times, involves concentrating on the northeast of the country, around the ISIS capital, Raqqa, far from where Russia has been aiming its airstrikes. This new offensive could involve providing ammunition to rebel groups for the first time and ramping up the air campaign in the northeast. The Times notes that  the “United States and Turkey continue detailed planning to use Arab militias to close a 60-mile stretch of border from the Euphrates River west to Kilis,” but it’s not clear if that still involves establishing a buffer zone or how it would be enforced.

The new plan seems fairly modest—U.S. airpower will support Kurds and a new Arab rebel force to advance to Raqqa and cut it off but not actually take it over. It certainly seems as if the administration has concluded that, with limited options to effect the situation in Syria in any positive way, the best it can do is keep ISIS’s growth contained as much as possible and avoid accidentally starting World War III by getting into a direct confrontation with Russia.

Of course, that’s not the easiest strategy to defend on the campaign trail. As Daniel Larison notes, even as the no-fly zone has started to seem less feasible, candidates, including not just Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio but also Hillary Clinton, have endorsed it as a strategy. (At a press conference last week, Obama dismissed Republican plans for Syria as “mumbo-jumbo.” The best he would say about his interventionist former secretary of state was that unlike her opponents, her ideas are “not half-baked.”)  

Generally speaking, politicians love calling for no-fly zones. As I wrote in 2011, while they often involve shooting down another country’s planes or destroying anti-aircraft batteries, they are somehow seen as a softer form of military intervention, a “compromise  in situations where the international community is demanding a response to ongoing violence, but full military intervention would be politically untenable.” It would be worth asking the candidates currently calling for one in Syria if they’d be willing to shoot down Russian planes to enforce it. 

Oct. 5 2015 2:47 PM

Report: Columbine Has Inspired at Least 74 Massacre Plans, 89 Actual Killings in U.S.

The progressive magazine Mother Jones has a timely piece on the emerging "threat assessment" approach to (trying to) prevent public massacres, which is premised on the realization that many American mass shootings are carefully planned attacks rather than the work of perpetrators who spontaneously "snap." In particular, MoJo writes, many mass killers are copycats informed and motivated by research into previous attacks, especially Columbine, and the number of murders that were planned by individuals who were explicitly inspired by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is chilling. Among the magazine's findings:

  • At least 74 post-Columbine mass-killing plots and attacks in the United States involved suspects/perpetrators who "claimed to have been inspired by the Columbine massacre."
  • 21 of those plots actually ended in attacks, which killed 89 victims.

What's more, a number of aspiring killers specifically planned attacks to take place on the anniversary of Columbine, and some even made pilgrimages to Columbine itself. For further reading, click through to Mother Jones' piece.

Oct. 5 2015 12:19 PM

Florida Senate Candidate Admits Voters Might Find It Odd That He Killed a Goat, Drank Its Blood

A libertarian Florida candidate for U.S. Senate killed a goat and drank its blood during a "pagan ritual," the Orlando Sentinel reports. Thirty-two-year-old Augustus Sol Invictus (it means "majestic unconquered sun" and no, it's not his given name) admitted to the paper that he had committed the act after a vision quest in the Mojave Desert:

"I did sacrifice a goat. I know that's probably a quibble in the mind of most Americans," he said. "I sacrificed an animal to the god of the wilderness. ... Yes, I drank the goat's blood."

The chairman of Florida's Libertarian Party—Adrian Wyllie, who got 3.8 percent of the vote in last year's governor's race—resigned to protest Invictus' candidacy.

If you're interested in reading further about Invictus, his Web page includes an FAQ, which answers questions such as "Why are you using Mussolini’s symbol if you’re a Libertarian?" and "How can Augustus Invictus run for US Senate if he renounced his US Citizenship in 2013?"

For all his campaign's insane trappings, though, the funny thing is that Invictus' stated policy positions are actually a fairly reasonable mix of small-government economics, civil libertarianism, and common-sense acknowledgments of reality on subjects like immigration and the environment. (His list of favorite books includes work by Bill McKibben and Rachel Carson, and he writes that "the freedom of Americans to pursue their business interests should not mean that we can no longer drink our own water.") But will Invictus' sensible platform be enough to persuade Florida voters to forgive his past history of having killed a goat so he could drink its blood?