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Feb. 11 2016 12:15 PM

El Chapo May Be Tried Artisanally in Brooklyn

Recently recaptured drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán "El Chapo" Loera will be tried in federal court in Brooklyn if he is successfully extradited from Mexico, the New York Times reports. The larger-than-life narcotics trafficker was captured in January in Sinaloa state but faces indictment in several U.S. jurisdictions including New York's Eastern District for selling heroin and cocaine that were not sustainably sourced.

While Guzmán has famously evaded authorities in Mexico for years, U.S. sources believe he will be motivated to remain in federal custody in Brooklyn because he would not be required to pay rent. Per the borough's constitution, Guzmán will be entitled to trial by a jury of his artistic peers in front of a judge, though some have criticized the idea that a single person can fairly be allowed to "judge" the validity of another person's lived experience.

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Legal experts say that obstacles to obtaining a conviction will include "the difficulty of proving Guzmán's personal culpability in crimes actually carried out by others" and "all the strollers on the sidewalks."

Vice Media employees are expected to defend Guzmán at trial but to do so in such a way that you are not sure if they are serious. He will be prosecuted self-consciously by Lena Dunham.

Feb. 11 2016 10:42 AM

The Situation in Syria Cannot Be Solved 

The Geneva peace talks may have been the Obama administration’s last fleeting, unlikely chance to positively impact events on the ground in Syria, and they’ve now all but collapsed. Technically, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura says talks between the Syrian government and the opposition will resume on Feb. 25, but the opposition is rapidly losing ground around the key city of Aleppo in the face of sustained assault by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Hezbollah, Iranian militias, and punishing Russian airstrikes.

The rebel forces fighting a multifront battle in the city were losing numbers and morale even before the most recent government offensive on their main urban stronghold, which threatens to cut them and as many as 300,000 civilians off completely from aid and supplies coming in from Turkey. If the talks drag on for much longer, there might not be much of an opposition left to participate in them. Given that, Assad and Vladimir Putin have little incentive to call off the assault. As Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post writes, Assad has long argued that the war in Syria is one between his forces and “terrorists.” That wasn’t true at one point, but as he, with Russian help, continues to crush the non-Jihadist opposition, he’s rapidly making it so. Aleppo is starting to look like the last stand of the revolution against Assad that broke out in 2011.

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The rebels, with good reason, feel betrayed, as the U.S. commitment to supporting them fades. (Russia, on Thursday, accused the U.S. of carrying out its own airstrikes near Aleppo, which the U.S. military denies.) The administration, also with good reason, has been wary about providing enough support to topple Assad’s government, fearing that it would create a chaotic power vacuum that would only benefit extremist groups, not unlike what’s happened in Libya since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. The administration had been hoping against hope that a political settlement could end the violence between Assad and the opposition, help stem the epochal refugee crisis that’s straining the resources of Syria’s neighbors and threatening Europe’s political future, and get everyone on the same page for the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida. It’s not going to happen that way.

So what’s next? It’s a cliché at this point to say that there are no good options in Syria, but even the bad options keep getting fewer and worse. Providing arms to the rebels on a major scale at this point would likely come too late to tip the balance of power, and the same factors that have made the U.S. reluctant to topple Assad since the beginning of the conflict are only more acute now. Some argue that to prevent a “new Srebrenica,” referring to the 1995 massacre in Bosnia, the time has come to enforce a no fly zone from Aleppo north to the Turkish border to protect civilians. This is not as simple as it sounds, even if the U.S. could force Russia to recognize it. Ground troops would likely be required to protect the zone from militia or government ground forces, there’s risk of the zone being occupied by ISIS or the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. The U.S. can simply continue supporting the Kurdish dominated rebel forces who have had success retaking territory from ISIS in eastern Syria, but that’s already provoking a diplomatic crisis with Turkey—whose support is vital on a number of fronts—and there are probably limits to how far Kurdish fighters can effectively hold territory in Sunni Arab areas.

Things have gotten to the point now that we’re likely to soon see prominent Western officials making the argument that it would be strategically wise and even more humane to let the Syrian government win rather than prolong the agonizing war with piecemeal support to the rebels. There’s some brutal realist logic to this, but allowing Assad’s forces, who’ve shown little reluctance to directly target civilians, to crush the remaining rebel strongholds, would be a humanitarian catastrophe even by Syria’s grim standards, create thousands more refugees, and likely drive more opposition fighters into the hands of ISIS and al-Nusra.

Of course, the other option, which maximalist hawks in the U.S. prefer, is to deploy a large number of U.S. ground troops. But the American public has no appetite for another such operation in the Middle East, and there’s little evidence from recent examples that the insertion of American boots on the ground into complex multisided sectarian conflicts does much good. The idea, floated by the Saudi government this week, of sending Saudi ground troops to Syria sounds promising only if you think the humanitarian catastrophe and utter chaos in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia has been bombing for the past year, is a good model.

The U.S. certainly could have handled things differently years and even months ago, but at this point, there is just no obvious course of action for U.S. policy toward Syria, and none of the options seem likely to prevent more years of fighting, more suffering, and more mass displacement. At the very least, it’s time to give up on the idea that getting everyone to the table in Geneva is the answer.  

Feb. 11 2016 9:11 AM

Cliven Bundy Arrested After Flying to Oregon

Rancher Cliven Bundy was arrested and jailed in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday night after flying to Oregon with the intention of traveling to the area of the dwindling occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, reports say. Bundy is charged with conspiracy to interfere with a federal officer for his actions in April 2014, when he led an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada that was related to his refusal to pay fees for grazing cattle on public lands. Two of Bundy's sons, Ammon and Ryan, were involved in leading the Oregon protest/occupation and were arrested in January.

From the Oregonian:

Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Mike Arnold, said Cliven Bundy was considering joining Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore at a news conference that had been planned Thursday morning in Portland to talk about the refuge takeover. [But] almost immediately after she arrived in Portland, Fiore started talking to the last occupiers by phone and left in a car for the six-hour drive to Burns to help work out their surrender.
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The four holdout protesters who remain on the wildlife refuge spent Wednesday night live-streaming their surreal discussion about how to respond to the FBI agents who have moved on to the refuge grounds; the holdouts ultimately agreed to turn themselves in this morning but haven't done so yet.

Feb. 11 2016 6:00 AM

Tonight Is Bernie’s Chance to Convince Black and Hispanic Voters That He’s Their Guy

No rest for the weary. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will square off on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, only two days after Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary by more than 20 points. The PBS-hosted debate will take place in Wisconsin, but both candidates will be more focused on Nevada and South Carolina, which hold the next two Democratic nominating contests later this month.

Both of those states, as you may had heard by now, are expected to give Clinton a far friendlier welcome than she received in Iowa, where she squeaked out a historically small victory last week, and New Hampshire, where she received a historic shellacking this week. Nevada’s caucusgoers and South Carolina’s primary voters tend to be more moderate and far more racially diverse than either of the first two states on the calendar, making them the first significant test of Bernie’s ability to expand a base that skews white and liberal. Hillary, though, knows that a loss in either contest will raise serious concerns that her much-hyped firewall is no match for the Bern. Expect both candidates to step on stage on Thursday night prepared to talk more about immigration, police reform, and other issues that are particularly important to the Hispanic and black voters they now need.

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Rhetorically, the shift poses a greater challenge for Sanders, given he prefers to stick to his script about economic inequality and class while Clinton is generally better versed in the language of identity politics. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie has explained, Hillary’s cultural familiarity with the black community in particular represents a powerful electoral advantage—and her campaign has made no secret that she hopes to use it to rebound as the nominating fight heads south.  

But as much as Sanders has struggled to speak as fluently about race as he does about class, he has proved himself capable of listening and learning, as we saw this past summer in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests at his campaign stops. At first, he retreated to more familiar income inequality territory. Later, he started placing a greater emphasis on racial justice and hired a young black woman who has been involved in the criminal justice reform movement as his national spokeswoman. He’s also picked up the backing of a handful of influential black intellectuals, including Cornel West, who endorsed him this summer, and the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who said this week that he plans to vote for Sanders, albeit with reservations. Bernie continued his outreach efforts on Wednesday when he sat down with Al Sharpton at the same Harlem restaurant where the civil rights activist met with then-Sen. Barack Obama back in 2008.

I’m expecting Hillary to again hit Bernie on his spotty gun record, which could easily be framed in racial justice terms, and for Sanders to be forced to defend his part in a 2007 effort to kill a bipartisan immigration bill that he feared would depress wages for lower-income workers. Clinton, meanwhile, could be forced to discuss the awkward way she and her campaign handled the issue of race in her 2008 nominating fight with Obama, as well as her husband’s record as president, which included a crime bill in 1994 and welfare reform in 1996 that took a disproportionate toll on American minorities. (If moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff were looking for a way to relive the 1990s, they got it on Wednesday when Michelle Alexander published a blistering essay in the Nation that ran under the headline, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.”)

That’s not to suggest that a debate in Milwaukee between a white sexagenarian and a white septuagenarian will be all about race and ethnicity—it won’t. (I bet gender comes up too!) Clinton and Sanders will also try to hit their usual marks while framing the results of the past two contests in their own favor. But given what’s at stake in Nevada on Feb. 20 and South Carolina on Feb. 27, they’ll be eager to reintroduce themselves to demographics that weren’t very present in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary will start with the advantage. The question is whether she can keep it.

Feb. 10 2016 11:00 PM

Oregon Occupiers Live Stream Insane Final Stand as FBI Prepares Final Push Against Refuge

The FBI appears to be making a final push Wednesday to end the 40-day old occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It’s not clear what exactly prompted the federal authorities to make a move on the four remaining occupiers, but the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon, Greg Bretzing, released this statement on Wednesday:

“It has never been the FBI’s desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully… However, we reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area.”
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The occupiers are currently live streaming their internal discussions on how to respond here (just as fair warning, some of the language is explict and the situation generally tense):

“FBI tactical teams had quietly moved into the refuge compound Tuesday night, entering the buildings undetected by the occupiers,” according to the Oregonian. “They apparently were in the buildings through the day Wednesday before agents moved against the encampment.” David Fry, 27, of Ohio, Jeff Banta of Elko, Nevada, and Sean and Sandy Anderson of Riggins, Idaho have remained at the refuge even after Ammon Bundy and others were arrested last month. The four face federal conspiracy charges for the participation in what they call a protest over government overreach on federal land.

Update, 11:15 p.m.: Slate's Jacob Brogan is following along to the occupiers' live stream here. Here's a sampling:

jb1

Feb. 10 2016 9:42 PM

Cleveland Files Claim Against Tamir Rice’s Estate for Cost of Ambulance After Police Shot Him

On Nov. 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann while playing with a BB gun in a local park. On Dec. 12, 2014, the shooting death was ruled a homicide. A full, excruciating year later for the Rice family, on Dec. 28, 2015, a grand jury decided against charging the officer responsible for Rice’s death. On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the city of Cleveland filed a $500 past due payment claim against Tamir Rice’s estate for nonpayment of the cost of the ambulance ride that transported him to the hospital, where he eventually died.

“Affiant states that to date Decedent has failed to pay for the goods and/or services as agreed upon delineated in the invoices, accounting, and/or ledger statements,” the claim reads.

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Just let that sink in for a moment.

tamirriceinvoice
The Tamir Rice invoice for EMS services rendered after he was shot and killed by police.

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"That the city would submit a bill and call itself a creditor after having had its own police officers slay 12-year-old Tamir displays a new pinnacle of callousness and insensitivity," one of Rice family attorneys, Subodh Chandra, told the Cleveland Scene on Wednesday. "The kind of poor judgment that it takes to do such a thing is nothing short of breathtaking. Who on earth would think this was a good idea and file this on behalf of the city? This adds insult to homicide.”

This is not the first time something like this has happened; in 2012, New York sent a $710 bill for vehicle repairs to a mother of a 27-year-old man who had been struck and killed by a cop car. The city attributed its institutional insensitivity to bureaucratic error.

Feb. 10 2016 7:47 PM

Justice Department Sues the City of Ferguson for Reneging on Police Reform Deal

The Justice Department sued the city of Ferguson, Missouri on Wednesday to mandate police reform after the city council voted Tuesday against accepting a carefully negotiated overhaul of its criminal justice system. The city council instead made its acceptance conditional on a series of amendments. The changes amounted, in essence, to a “no” vote on the deal, despite the clear and well-understood threat of a federal lawsuit if the city failed to accept the terms agreed to by city negotiators. The DOJ filed a 56-page federal lawsuit against Ferguson Wednesday afternoon asking the court to compel the city “to adopt and implement policies, procedures, and mechanisms that identify, correct, and prevent the unlawful conduct."

The DOJ opened its civil rights investigation into the policing of Ferguson following the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown and uncovered a police force and court system that operated outside the law, in a fashion that showed a deep bias against its black residents, while simultaneously functioning as a revenue-generator for the local government. To avoid a federal lawsuit, the Obama administration spent seven months negotiating reforms and came to an agreement on a package of fundamental changes last month.

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They agreed that police officers would not make arrests without probable cause, shoot at moving cars or use stun guns as punishment. The agreement demanded that the municipal court be independent of the Police Department, and called for the repeal of some laws, like a vague jaywalking ordinance that was used almost exclusively against black residents. It was an expensive deal. It called for Ferguson to pay for an independent monitor, provide new training and give raises to police officers in order to attract qualified applicants. Ferguson has been running an operating deficit of about $2.5 million since the unrest of a year and a half ago, but Mayor James Knowles III said he was optimistic that he had the votes in the City Council to approve the agreement.

Opposition to the agreement was largely financial, with concerns over the cost of the deal looming large for the council and some residents.

Feb. 10 2016 5:30 PM

The Wednesday Slatest Newsletter

The fallout from last night's Trump/Sanders victories in New Hampshire—a.k.a. the triumph of New York values—was immediate today: 

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And in other news, an elephant went on a rampage in an Indian town only days after a leopard did the same thing elsewhere in the country. (No serious injuries were reported in either incident.)

Have a good day out there. The animals are coming for us. They are coming for you.

Feb. 10 2016 5:03 PM

Donald Trump Finally Reveals How Much His Very Attractive Wall Will Cost

Donald Trump finally revealed how much his big, beautiful wall between the U.S. and Mexico would cost in an interview on MSNBC earlier this week.

Trump said his wall would be 35 to 40 feet high, and would cost $8 billion, a “very simple number,” according to Trump, which “is a tiny fraction of the money that we lose with Mexico,” he said, referring to an imaginary “astronomical” trade deficit with Mexico. (There’s a deficit, but it’s not astronomical: $58.4 billion in 2015 vs. $365.7 billion with China in 2015.)

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“It’s going to look as good as a wall is going to look…. And we’re going to have big, beautiful doors and people are going to come into the country.”

Here’s how Trump breaks it up, in Trump-math:

We have 2,000 miles … and of the 2,000 we don’t need 2,000, we need a thousand because we have natural barriers, etc., etc., and I’m taking a price per square foot and a price per mile, and it’s a very simple calculation.

Remember, this cost will be passed along to Mexico, Trump says. Back in August, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto said Mexico is of course not paying for the wall, and on Monday, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon also told CNBC, “Mexico will not pay a single cent for such a stupid wall.”

During Tuesday’s interview, when Trump reiterated that Mexico would be the happy sponsor for the wall, Tamron Hall pressed him. “But how do you get Mexico to pay for it?”

“It’s very simple,” Trump continued. “You tell Mexico they’re going to pay for it.”

Feb. 10 2016 3:43 PM

Carly Fiorina Is Quitting the Race Too

And then there were ... still a lot of them. Carly Fiorina has joined Chris Christie in dropping out of the crowded Republican presidential race after a poor finish in the New Hampshire primary, she announced on Facebook on Wednesday in a message that claimed oddly that her campaign (which heavily touted her experience as a Fortune 500 CEO) was actually about sticking it to the Man on behalf of the little people:

This campaign was always about citizenship—taking back our country from a political class that only serves the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well connected. 
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Eh?

Remaining Republican candidates in rough order of current popularity include Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and "Jim Gilmore." Also Ben Carson, who may or may not be currently aware that New Hampshire held a primary on Tuesday and whose campaign is expected to continue through November and beyond regardless of vote totals or the election being over or a new president getting inaugurated. 

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