The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

March 1 2015 1:22 PM

Vince Vaughn, Lady Gaga Take a Dip in Icy Lake Michigan for Polar Plunge

He didn’t do it in a suit a la Jimmy Fallon last year, but actor Vince Vaughn was the celebrity guest of honor at the 15th annual Polar Plunge in Chicago. And Lady Gaga just showed up for kicks. The annual event raises money for the Special Olympics and the organization used social media to recruit the actor with the hashtag #VinnyDippin, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Lady Gaga was the surprise appearance alongside her fiancé, Chicago Fire actor Taylor Kinney. Lady Gaga entered the water on Kinney’s shoulders, reports NBC, which points out the actor was scheduled to participate with two of his co-stars. More than 4,500 people took part in the plunge, according to the Associated Press.

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March 1 2015 12:11 PM

Almost Half of Voters Say GOP Shouldn’t Have Invited Netanyahu to Congress

Nearly half of U.S. voters—48 percent—say Republican lawmakers shouldn’t have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without first getting the OK from President Barack Obama, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Three in 10 voters, meanwhile, said the invitation seemed fine to them, and 22 percent said they had no idea. As could be expected, the divide is largely along party lines as 66 percent of Democrats disapprove of the invite compared to 28 percent of Republicans.

Meanwhile there are increasing signs that Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday, when he is expected to lobby for tougher sanctions on Iran, could mark a breaking point for Israel’s relationship with the United States. “While U.S. and Israeli officials insist that key areas of cooperation from counter-terrorism to intelligence to cyber security will remain unaffected, the deepening divide over the Iran talks is shaping up as the worst in decades,” notes Reuters.

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Netanyahu left Israel on Sunday morning vowing to go ahead with his planned speech. “I’m going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel deep and sincere concern for the security of Israel’s citizens and for the fate of the state and of all our people,” Netanyahu said, according to the Guardian. “I will do everything in my power to ensure our future.” Some, however, are saying that Netanyahu “may have overplayed his hand,” as CNN puts it, and the whole thing could backfire as he has managed to turn potentially friendly Democrats against him.

Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to try to tone down any suggestion of tensions on Sunday. “The prime minister of Israel is welcome to speak in the United States, obviously,” Kerry told ABC. He did note it “was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the speaker of the House” but also warned “we don't want to see this turned into some great political football.”

March 1 2015 8:54 AM

Rand Paul Beats Out Scott Walker in CPAC Straw Poll (Bush Comes in Fifth)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference for the third time in a row this year with 25.7 percent of the vote while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received 21.4 percent. It may be his third victory but judging by the CPAC numbers his star among the conservative base is waning as his support declined from last year, when he got 31 percent of the vote, reports Politico. The poll of the 3,007 conference attendees rarely serves as an indication of who will win the Republican nomination. But in this case, “Walker's second place finish is another sign his popularity is surging amongst influential conservative activists,” notes NBC News.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who isn’t particularly popular with the conservatives, tried to make a strong showing and poured money into sponsoring buses for supporters. But in the end he could only muster a fifth place with eight percent of the vote. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in third with 12 percent and Ben Carson received 11 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, continues to see his star fall, taking seventh place with four percent of the vote, a marked decline from the 23 percent he received in 2013.

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Looking so carefully at the numbers misses the larger picture because CPAC really isn’t just a preview of the primaries. The Washington Post explains:

The event—which is sponsored by think tanks, conservative Web sites and influential interest groups like the National Rifle Association—is really more about theater, a forum for budding presidential candidates to road-test ideas. And in that regard, this year’s gathering did not disappoint.
Some of the excitement had to do with the fact that organizers changed the format of the event from previous years. Rather than just deliver speeches, candidates were expected to take questions from the audience—a twist that helped some candidates, but hurt others.

Feb. 28 2015 6:30 PM

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll for Third Time

In a performance worthy of Groundhog Day, Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll on Saturday for the third time. The libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator, who had previously won the poll in 2013 and 2014, claimed 25.7 percent of the vote. His father, former Rep. Ron Paul, won it twice (in 2010 and 2011). Thus, Rand makes history as the winningest Paul in the CPAC straw poll’s storied existence.

But hold on to your turtlenecks; this doesn’t necessarily mean that he gets to be president. Former winners include George Allen, Gary Bauer, Phil Gramm, and other non-commanders-in-chief. But it certainly doesn’t hurt Paul’s prospects in the 2016 GOP nominating race.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s second-place finish, 4 points behind the tousley-locked senator, is probably a bigger deal than Paul’s win. Paul was kind of a shoo-in, and Walker’s silver medal shows that the CPAC audience wasn’t quite as perturbed as the national political media over his unfortunate juxtaposition of Wisconsin pro-union protesters and ISIS.

Sen. Ted Cruz tailed in a distant third with 11.5 percent, ten points behind Walker and just a tenth of a point ahead of Tocqueville-quote-fabricator Ben Carson. The results have to be even more disappointing for Mike Huckabee, who quit his Fox News show to make noise about running for president and only got 0.3 percent of the vote, and for Chris Christie, who got just 2.8 percent and lagged behind Donald Trump. Jeb Bush had a stronger showing with a fifth place finish at 8.3 percent, likely due in part to the fact that his backers bussed in supporters from K Street and Georgetown and got them day passes to watch his speech. 

Feb. 28 2015 1:02 PM

Murdered Russian Opposition Leader Was Planning to Release Information on Ukraine Conflict

Thousands of shocked Russians gathered on Saturday to lay flowers and light candles on the bridge where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed in Moscow on Friday in what amounted to the country’s highest-profile killing of a political figure in more than a decade. And even though the investigation into the murder is just getting started, several reports claim Nemtsov was preparing to release information about the Kremlin’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko himself put forward the theory on Saturday. "He said he would reveal persuasive evidence of the involvement of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Someone was very afraid of this ... They killed him," Poroshenko said, according to Reuters. He’s not alone. The New York Times talks to the New Times magazine editor who met with Nemtsov two weeks ago. Nemtsov reportedly told his old friend he wanted to publish a pamphlet titled “Putin and the War” about the country’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict. He knew the risks. “He was afraid of being killed,” the editor, Yevgenia Albats, said. “And he was trying to convince himself, and me, they wouldn’t touch him.”

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For its part, Russia’s top investigative body said it is looking at several possible motives for the killing, including “murder as a provocation to destabilize the political situation in the country.” The Investigative Committee said it was analyzing whether he had been killed as a "sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals," reports the Associated Press. The thinking is that fellow members of the opposition could have killed Nemtsov in order to create a martyr, an assertion that many immediately dismissed as ridiculous. The Investigative Committee is also examining whether the killing had anything to do with Ukraine, or if there was any connection to Islamic extremism.

World leaders, including President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, condemned the killing and have called for a thorough investigation, notes the Guardian. “I am shocked and sickened by the callous murder of Boris Nemtsov as he walked in the heart Moscow last night,” Cameron said in a statement on Saturday morning. "This despicable act must be fully, rapidly and transparently investigated, and those responsible brought to justice." Obama also called on “the Russian government to conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder and ensure that those responsible for this vicious killing are brought to justice.”

Feb. 28 2015 12:32 PM

One Billion Young People Risk Hearing Loss Due to Loud Music

Turn down the music. That’s the key message from the World Health Organization that claims 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of the music they listen to through their smartphones or personal audio devices. The WHO claims that its data demonstrates around half of those aged 12-35 in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe levels of sound through headphones. And around 40 percent are exposed to potentially damaging sound at entertainment venues.

“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. “They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back.”

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What can people do? The WHO explains:

Teenagers and young people can better protect their hearing by keeping the volume down on personal audio devices, wearing earplugs when visiting noisy venues, and using carefully fitted, and, if possible, noise-cancelling earphones/headphones. They can also limit the time spent engaged in noisy activities by taking short listening breaks and restricting the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour. With the help of smartphone apps, they can monitor safe listening levels. In addition they should heed the warning signs of hearing loss and get regular hearing check-ups.

The WHO estimates that around 360 million people across the world suffer from “moderate to profound hearing loss due to various causes.”

Feb. 28 2015 10:38 AM

Autopsy of Teen Killed by Denver Police Appears to Contradict Official Account

The 17-year-old girl who was fatally shot by Denver police officers on Jan. 26 while driving a stolen car suffered four gunshot wounds, according to the autopsy. Two bullets struck Jessica Hernandez through the left side of her chest, which her family has said directly contradicts the claim by cops who say they opened fire when she tried to run them down, reports Reuters. She also had bullet wounds on her thigh and pelvis. Police insist the cops repeatedly told those in the car to exit the vehicle, but a passenger tells the Associated Press that wasn’t the case.

 “The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner has classified the death of Jessica Hernandez as a homicide. The report shows that Jessie was shot from the driver’s side of the car and not from close range. These facts undermine the Denver Police Department’s claim that Jessie was driving at the officers as they shot her,” an attorney representing Hernandez’s family said in a statement. Many have raised questions about Hernandez’s death from the beginning, and thousands signed a petition urging the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in the investigation, reports Denver’s Fox affiliate.

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The AP, however, talks to a retired police chief who cautioned against making definite conclusions from the autopsy report, saying other factors need to be considered. "It's like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together, and we've got two tiny little pieces right now," Montgomery said. "More are going to start coming into place."

Feb. 27 2015 10:59 PM

House Approves One Week's Worth of Funding for Department of Homeland Security

After earlier rejecting a bill that would have funded the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks, the House of Representatives late Friday voted 357 to 60 to keep the department operational for a single week as House Republicans continue their campaign to halt President Obama's immigration reforms by using DHS funding as leverage. From the Huffington Post:

A majority of Democrats joined Republicans to vote for the short-term fix, after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her colleagues that the passage of the one-week resolution would assure a vote on a full funding bill next week. Democratic leadership aides said they were assured that the House would take up a full-year funding bill next week if they helped pass the one-week continuing resolution on Friday. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel insisted that no such promise had been made.
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The Senate, which has already voted overwhelmingly to fund DHS through September without any immigration-related conditions, also approved the one-week extension.

Feb. 27 2015 6:34 PM

Phil Robertson Says Interesting Things at CPAC, Bemoans Non-Christians in White House

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but Phil Robertson—the Duck Dynasty reality television star who came under liberal scrutiny and became a conservative folk hero after being suspended for his, um, colorful views on race relations and homosexuality—said some interesting things at CPAC on Friday.

The Conservative Political Action Conference is an annual event that brings together conservatism’s most dedicated grassroots activists, influential thought leaders, and some people who do reality TV. Sometimes people give speeches that make history and launch their political careers, and other times they say things that make you scratch your head.

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Here are some of the interesting things Phil Robertson said during his address:

On rock and roll music: “What do you call the hundred and ten million who have sexually transmitted illnesses? It's the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll have come back to haunt us, in a bad way."

On genital herpes: “How many seconds does it take to get genital herpes? [The Centers for Disease Control] said 30 seconds. I'm like, whoa, that's pretty quick."

On Speaker John Boehner’s apparent enforcement of a House dress code and Robertson’s own CPAC fashion choices: “These are my church clothes. I never got around to buying a suit. … You say, ‘Phil, are you going to make it through this thing without of a suit?’ Irregardless of me not being able to go on the floor of the House of Representatives without a suit on, according to ol’ John Boehner—‘Hey John, I have my best clothes on!’

Boehner, here’s a newsflash! Just make sure you pass good bills comin’ out of that House that affects my life and don’t worry about the clothes on their backs, just pass good legislation! I’ll feel better about you!”

On non-religious people in the White House: Robertson quoted James Madison as saying, “This Constitution was written for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.” Then Robertson said that the problem with America is that there have been too many non-Christian presidents: “You know what’s happened, GOP? We got too many ‘any others’ in the White House! It wasn’t meant for them!”

On similarities between himself and George Washington: “Your founding fathers were godly. So am I. You say, ‘Phil, you’re like George Washington.’ Yeah! ‘You’re like Thomas Jefferson.’ Yeah! I’m just saying, they were godly.”

He said these interesting things in an acceptance speech for the Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award. If this has whetted your interest in interesting things said by Phil Robertson, Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment, Mediaite has video of the whole interesting speech here.

Jeb Bush spoke shortly after Phil Robertson. He also seems to have found the things Phil Robertson said to be interesting, as he tweeted this:

Feb. 27 2015 6:08 PM

Prominent Putin Critic Fatally Shot in Moscow Days Before Anti-Government Rally 

Multiple outlets are now reporting that the veteran Russian liberal politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Moscow today. According to the Russian newswire TASS, he was shot four times near the center of the city.

The exact circumstances aren’t yet clear, but the shooting comes just before Sunday’s planned “anti-crisis” opposition rally in Moscow, organized by Russia’s beleaguered political opposition, which until today included Nemtsov. Fellow opposition leader Alexey Navalny was jailed last week, preventing him from attending the rally, meaning two of the movement’s best known leaders have now been silenced ahead of the highly-anticipated event, which is supposed to call attention to the worsening state of the Russian economy.

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Born in Sochi, Nemtsov was considered a rising star in Russian politics during the 1990s when served as governor of Nizhny Novgorod and then a deputy prime minister in Boris Yeltsin’s government. A co-founder of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, he became a staunch opponent of Vladimir Putin as well as a strong supporter of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution and advisor to former Ukrainian President and Putin antagonist Viktor Yuschenko. In 2008, he cofounded the opposition party Solidarity with chess champion Garry Kasparov, and in 2009, unsuccessfully ran against a Kremlin-backed candidate for mayor of Sochi. He was a fixture at opposition rallies in Moscow and was arrested multiple times. Earlier this week, he had been sentenced to 10 days in jail for resisting arrest during a 2012 rally. Nemtsov also found other ways to needle Russia’s president, including publishing photos of his (alleged) Black Sea villa.

Nemtsov’s excellent English and sarcastic sense of humor made him one of the most quoted Russian opposition figures in the Western media. When I interviewed him in 2010 about plans to hold the Winter Olympics in his hometown, he was incredulous about the idea of having the games in “one of the only places in Russia where there is no snow in the winter. Comparing to Nikita Krushchev’s desire to grow corn in the Arctic circle, he predicted that the games would be “an economic and ecological catastrophe.”

Nemtsov believed pressure from Putin and cronyism was behind the IOC’s  decision to hold the games in Sochi. “Eventually, there will be an international investigation to bring to light why this decision was made,” he predicted, so far, sadly, inaccurately.

In an article on the upcoming rally published yesterday, he told the Financial Times that he believed Putin would serve out the rest of his term, as well as another one beginning in 2018. The goal, he said, was to be ready for 2024 when, according to Russia’s constitution, Putin can no longer run again.

“Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents,” he said. “The task is to organize a real opposition again.”

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