Oklahoma Quietly Removes Controversial Two-Ton Ten Commandments Monument From Capitol
A Ten Commandments monument planted on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol was quietly removed on Monday night, after years of quarreling over the 6-foot, 4,800-pound granite slab’s presence at the statehouse. The court-ordered relocation puts to rest the divisive issue, but perhaps only temporarily—conservative lawmakers are considering a (state) Constitutional amendment to bring the monument back.
“Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution,” the Associated Press reports. “The [move] comes after the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in June that the display violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support ‘any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.’"
“Oklahoma is the latest in a string of states, cities and school districts to grapple with whether government display of the Ten Commandments violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on any ‘law respecting an establishment of religion,' or similar provisions in state constitutions,” according to the New York Times. “Courts have prohibited displays for religious purposes, while allowing those for broader cultural reasons, leading to mixed results in legal challenges.”
AP Report Finds Nuclear Smugglers Actively Seeking to Sell to ISIS, Other Terrorist Groups
The Associated Press dropped a disturbing investigative report on Tuesday evening from Europe’s fringes, where they discovered nuclear smugglers actively seeking extremist groups, including ISIS, as buyers for radioactive material. Authorities have intercepted four attempts in the last five years, with the latest known case, the AP reports, coming “in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium—enough to contaminate several city blocks—and specifically sought a buyer from [ISIS].”
The criminal black market for dangerous nuclear materials in Moldova is linked to Russian criminal networks some with ties to Russia’s intelligence agency. Here’s more from the AP:
Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the nuclear black market has become. They say the breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it has become much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia's vast store of radioactive materials — an unknown quantity of which has leached into the black market…
In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found a troubling vulnerability in the anti-smuggling strategy. From the first known Moldovan case in 2010 to the most recent one in February, a pattern has emerged: Authorities pounce on suspects in the early stages of a deal, giving the ringleaders a chance to escape with their nuclear contraband — an indication that the threat from the nuclear black market in the Balkans is far from under control.
“Moldovan investigators can't be sure that the suspects who fled didn't hold on to the bulk of the nuclear materials,” the AP notes, “[n]or do they know whether the groups, which are pursuing buyers who are enemies of the West, may have succeeded in selling deadly nuclear material to terrorists at a time when [ISIS] has made clear its ambition to use weapons of mass destruction.”
Meat-Loving Republicans Cowed the White House Into Ignoring Expert Nutrition Advice
Early this year, the nation’s top nutrition advisory panel offered some common-sense advice to the federal agencies tasked with writing the nation’s next set of dietary guidelines: Americans, the panel said, should be urged to eat less meat for the sake of the environment.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration effectively responded, Thanks, but our hands are tied.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, whose agencies are currently at work writing the final guidelines, buried the news in a joint statement that paid lip service to the idea that “the environment and sustainability are critically important” but that ultimately concluded that the nutritional guidelines are not “the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.” What the appropriate vehicle is, the two secretaries did not say.
The timing of the announcement, though, tells us plenty about why Vilsack and Burwell decided to ignore the advice of an expert panel that their agencies have traditionally listened closely to when drafting their pyramid- and plate-themed guidelines. On Wednesday, both secretaries are scheduled to testify in front of the Republican-led House Agriculture Committee. The panel’s chairman, K. Michael Conaway, was among the GOP leaders who had a livestock industry-endorsed freak-out over the idea that the administration would dare to consider the sustainability of Americans diets, particularly when doing so would mean telling people to cut down on their meat intake. Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Alabama Republican who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the Agriculture Department’s purse strings, even went as far earlier this year as to threaten that the department could be subject to budget cuts if it decided to follow the nutrition experts’ advice.
Given that, it appears as though the Obama administration is simply, albeit sadly, unwilling to open up another front in Washington’s climate wars at a time when Republicans are unwilling to accept the scientific consensus about global warming. The political rationale for avoiding the fight, though, is much easier to justify than the scientific case for doing so. The eat-less-meat proposal had the backing of both public health officials, who argued that it could save the nation billions of dollars in health care costs, and climate scientists, who saw it as a way to curb U.S. emissions.
As I explained earlier this year, the climate case for eating less meat is particularly powerful: Livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of the world’s human-caused emissions, nearly half of that coming from the resources needed to grow and ship the corn and soy that most of the animals eat, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. A meat-eater’s typical diet is responsible for almost twice as much global warming as your typical vegetarian’s and almost triple that of a vegan, according to a report published in the journal Climatic Change last year. That Oxford University study suggested that cutting your meat intake in half could cut your carbon footprint by more than 35 percent. Beef, meanwhile, is particularly damaging to the planet. According to the National Academy of Sciences, it results in five times more GHG emissions than pork or chicken, while requiring 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water.
In the end, though, science never seemed to have much of a chance against the meat industry, which has a history of flexing its lobbying muscles until policymakers in Washington submit to its will. Sadly, the only question left now is whether the same familiar story will play out once again in five years time when the next administration gets the chance to draft the next set of dietary guidelines.
Elsewhere in Slate: The Beginning of the End for Ag-Gag Laws
Model Chloe Goins Sues Bill Cosby for Alleged Sexual Assault at Playboy Mansion
Model Chloe Goins filed suit against Bill Cosby on Tuesday for an alleged sexual assault at the Playboy Mansion in 2008. The 25-year-old came forward last December saying that Cosby sexually assaulted her when she was 18 years old, after she drank a mixed drink the comedian prepared for her that caused her to pass out. “Goins' lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeks punitive damages for a variety of problems she says she has endured since the incident, including mental anguish, loss of self-esteem and dignity,” the Associated Press reports. “‘Bill Cosby touched an intimate part of Chloe Goins' body while she was seriously disabled and/or unconscious,’ the lawsuit states.”
Goins’ civil suit is the third brought by an accuser against Cosby since numerous allegations of sexual assault were revisited last year, sparking outrage. Several of the other suits are claiming defamation by Cosby, rather than sexual assault because, so far, each of the dozens of accusations exceeds the statute of limitations for such crimes. “The civil suit by Chloe Goins comes as L.A. County prosecutors are already reviewing a criminal investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department into the 25-year-old model's allegations,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “LAPD detectives presented the findings of their investigation last week to the district attorney’s office, which is reviewing the work.”
Six Thousand Drug Offenders in Federal Prison To Be Freed
Six thousand prisoners currently serving time for drug offenses around the country will be freed at the end of October, thanks to a recent decision by the federal government that made new drug sentencing guidelines retroactive. The guidelines were introduced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in April 2014, and are estimated to have shortened the average eligible prisoner’s sentence by 25 months.
Prisoners who were sentenced before the new guidelines went into effect were allowed to apply for early release starting last November. According to an estimate by the Sentencing Commission, which operates as an independent agency inside the Justice Department, about 46,000 federal inmates were eligible to apply. Since applications started coming in about a year ago, federal judges have been holding hearings to review cases, and the Bureau of Prisons has been making arrangements for some inmates who have been granted early release to move into halfway houses once they leave prison this fall.
According to the Washington Post, this is “the largest ever one-time release of federal prisoners” in history. Before you start picturing a massive jail-break, however, consider that each of the 6,000 people being released was vetted individually by the court system, and judges were given the discretion to deny applications from prisoners whose records indicated that they would be a threat to public safety.
“Had they been sentenced under the new regime, each one of these people being released would have already served their sentence,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit group that advocates for a less punitive criminal justice system, in a phone interview this afternoon. “I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that these are cases in which there is no principled reason to keep the person in prison one day longer.”
Department of Justice officials told the Post that “about one-third of the inmates who will be released in a few weeks are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported.”
Price said she was aware of at least one individual among the 6,000 gaining freedom this fall who was previously serving a life sentence.
Washington Post Wins Day With Trump Hat Generator
Along with the phrase "Who is doing the raping?", Donald Trump's phenomenal "Making America Great Again" hat is the signature achievement of his ongoing presidential campaign. (Slate's Seth Stevenson analyzed the hat on every level, from its grammar to its shape to its font, in August.) The Washington Post's Philip Bump has now done the service of commemorating Trump's bid for the presidency with a Trump hat generator that you can use to make a Trump hat that says anything you'd like it to say. Like this one:
You see, it's like Trump's dumb quote, but with rapping.
The Washington Post's Philip Bump has made America great again.
Ben Carson Talks Roseburg: “I Would Not Just Stand There and Let Him Shoot Me”
Ben Carson doesn’t want anyone blaming the guns, but on Tuesday he came awfully close to blaming the victims.
During an appearance on Fox and Friends, Carson trotted out the usual NRA-endorsed conservative argument against stricter gun laws: Guns don’t kill people, the mentally ill do. The GOP hopeful, though, didn’t stop there. Asked by one of the show’s co-hosts, Brian Kilmeade, what he personally would do if a gunman walked up to him and asked his religion—as the shooter allegedly did to his victims before opening fire last week on the campus of an Oregon community college—Carson responded with this doozy:
I’m glad you asked that question because not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say: “Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me but he can’t get us all.”
If you ignore Carson’s convenient, Mark Wahlberg–style counterfactual bravery, Carson’s comments, as stunningly insensitive as they may be, are actually consistent with the general pro-gun worldview that the former neurosurgeon has been espousing on the campaign trail. “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,” Carson wrote on Facebook on Monday night in response to a question about the Oregon shooting, “but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”
Elsewhere in Slate:
Two 11-Year-Olds Shot People to Death in the U.S. Last Weekend
On Monday around noon news broke that an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee shot an 8-year-old girl to death last Saturday because she wouldn't let him see a puppy. Today around noon news broke that an 11-year-old boy in Ohio shot his brother to death by accident last Friday:
The shooting occurred while the boys from Moore, South Carolina, were with a man visiting a friend's property in rural Lee Township, roughly 50 miles west of Pittsburgh, Carroll County Sheriff Dale Williams said.
The sheriff said the men had three loaded weapons on a picnic table Friday afternoon and were discussing one when the younger boy picked up one of the guns and it fired. The older boy was struck in the head and died at the scene.
The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of all the children 11 and younger killed by guns in the U.S. In September that number was 37. Thirty-seven!
The Tuesday Slatest: Joe Biden’s Leak, Jindal’s Absurdity, and More
The vice president was the unnamed source who told Maureen Dowd about Beau Biden's dying wish that his father run for president, Politico reports, and Slate's Josh Voorhees asks today whether we should really be surprised by that. In other Tuesday newsin':
- Two researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for studying neutrinos via techniques that included experiments conducted a half-mile underground in a repurposed zinc mine near Tokyo, which sounds cool.
- The increasingly popular DraftKings and FanDuel "daily fantasy" sites are in some hot water over allegations that their employees can easily pull off what amounts to the sports gambling version of insider trading.
- Vladimir Putin made Syria a new front in his rhetorical war on reality.
- Slate's Chris Kirk and Joshua Keating made a very helpful (and colorful) guide to the many people who are fighting each other in Syria.
- The Vatican confirmed that the pope will visit Mexico next year, a trip for which the country's 80-percent-Catholic population will no doubt be very excited.
- California became the fifth state to endorse the "right to die."
- Cheerios recalled 1.8 million boxes of cereal that were erroneously labeled "gluten-free."
- Bobby Jindal proudly announced to the world that he had tied for fifth place in a poll.
- And a nice Montana hunter forgave the bear that tried to eat his head.
Have a good day out there!
Bobby Jindal Proudly Announces Meteoric Rise to Tie for Fifth Place in Iowa Poll
One of the themes of the 2016 Republican presidential primary race has been the comical superfluousness of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose campaign appears to consist entirely of sending out badly punctuated, nonsensical press releases and tweets. Today we may have reached maximum Jindal:
Why is “on the move” in quotation marks? Who is being quoted?
FYI, the complete results of the poll in question actually say Jindal tied for fifth place with Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee; also, the poll's margin of error was 4.7 percent. Per RealClearPolitics' running averages, Jindal's true level of support is actually around 4 percent in Iowa (seventh place) and an impressively low 0.5 percent nationally (eleven-zillionth place). Bobby Jindal is on the move (toward an inevitable announcement that he is dropping out of the 2016 presidential race)!