The Slatest
Your News Companion

Aug. 28 2015 5:42 PM

Why Hillary Is Finally Embracing the Inevitability Narrative She Tried to Avoid for So Long

Hillary Clinton spent the beginning of her campaign doing everything she could to avoid the perception that she believed her nomination was inevitable. But with Bernie Sanders continuing to draw massive crowds and the Beltway buzzing about the possibility of a late challenge from Joe Biden, Clinton’s camp is finally changing its tune.

Earlier this week, her allies gave Politico a sneak peek at the campaign's long-term primary strategy, one that includes what the outlet dubbed a “Super Tuesday firewall.” The message from Clinton-land was clear: Even if she stumbles out of the gates in Iowa or, much more likely, New Hampshire, Hillary won’t only survive, she’ll still be ready to deliver a knockout blow to Sanders by March 1, when 11 states—including delegate-rich Texas and Virginia—hold their nominating contests. “If it works,” Politico reported, “the former secretary of state will have wrapped up the party’s nomination before spring ends—with only 32 states and two territories having voted—thereby avoiding the kind of protracted battle that consumed much of 2008.”

Clinton’s muscle-flexing continued on Friday, with her senior advisers telling Bloomberg she has already secured 440 of the roughly 700 superdelegates who will be invited to the Democratic National Convention next summer. The total number of delegates who will decide the nomination is expected to be roughly 5,000—the vast majority of which will be selected by next year’s primaries and caucuses—but the 440 figure nonetheless represents about one-fifth of the delegates Clinton will need to claim the nomination. That’s a rather significant head start for a candidate who already has massive fundraising and organizational advantages over her rivals.

As Hillary knows better than most, there’s nothing preventing a superdelegate from pledging his support today and changing his mind tomorrow—but that hasn’t stopped her camp from effectively shouting “scoreboard” with the first official nominating contest still five months away.

The campaign’s new power pose makes sense. Earlier this year, Clinton was pretending to sweat to avoid looking like she was coasting to her party’s nomination. But now that the heat is on she’s eager to look calm, cool, and collected. There are plenty of good reasons to believe she really is—her current 20-point lead in national polls chief among them—but with her email scandal continuing to dog her campaign and with Biden weighing his options, more important than being confident is looking confident. And reminding her allies and enemies of all her organizational advantages will help her do just that.

Video Advertisement

Aug. 28 2015 5:09 PM

Alabama First Lady Files for Divorce From Sitting Governor After 50 Years of Marriage

Alabama first lady Dianne Bentley has filed for divorce from Republican governor Robert Bentley after 50 years of marriage, court records indicate. The two are both 72 years old. From Al.com:

The filing cites "complete incompatibility of temperament" and states they have been separated since January. The filing also lists her address as Tuscaloosa and his as Montgomery ... The couple has continued to make public appearances together. Today, they were seen together at College Colors Day at the governor's mansion in Montgomery.

The cause of his separation from his wife was not disclosed, though court filings indicate the couple "nearly divorced" in 1999, Al.com says.

In what seems like a considerable stretch, a Democratic lawmaker named John Rogers is arguing that Bentley needs to take a leave of absence and appoint a temporary replacement because his personal life will otherwise distract him from budget negotiations:

"He needs to step away from the legislature. He is totally conflicted," Rogers said. "He can't work with the legislature to fashion a budget ... For this (the divorce) to happen at this time is unfathomable."

Bentley was first elected in 2010 and was reelected last year. (Alabama governors are limited to two terms in office.) He does not appear to have yet commented publicly on the news.

Aug. 28 2015 4:24 PM

This Black Driver’s Mistake Was Looking a Police Officer in the Eye

John Felton was driving to his brother’s house in Dayton, Ohio, on a recent night when he noticed a police car tailing him. Not wanting to give the officer any excuse to pull him over, Felton, who is black and was visiting Dayton from Michigan, tried to drive extra carefully. But the effort was insufficient: Soon after making a turn, Felton was forced to stop his car and show the officer his driver’s license.

It turned out Felton had not switched on his turn signal at the exact right moment; as you can see from the video Felton made of the encounter and sent to talk show host David Pakman, the white officer told him he had failed to signal within 100 feet of making his turn.

But why, Felton wanted to know, had the officer decided to follow him in the first place? That’s when the stop went from being an ordinary illustration of racial profiling to an extraordinary one.

"You made direct eye contact with me and held onto it when I was passing you," the officer told Fenton. The implication was that Fenton had marked himself as a suspicious character simply by looking at the officer.

Update, Aug. 28, 5:10 p.m.: The city of Dayton put out a statement about the incident, acknowledging that "making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop.” The statement implies—but doesn’t say outright—that in pulling Felton over for not signaling within 100 feet of a turn, the officer was complying with a Dayton police initiative called "Safe Communities Through Aggressive Traffic Enforcement,” aimed at reducing traffic-related fatalities. The statement also says that the police department "is in contact with Mr. Felton,” and that he "has agreed to a conversation with the officer, facilitated by the Dayton Mediation Center” that will "allow Mr. Felton and the Officer to discuss the specifics of the incident.”

For those who have been following the past year in race relations between police officers and black people, that will sound familiar: Making eye contact with cops was also what set off a chase in Baltimore that ended with Freddie Gray sustaining fatal injuries in the back of a van.

During a eulogy, the Rev. Jamal Bryant to say the following to Gray’s mother:

On April 12 at 8:39 in the morning, four officers on bicycles saw your son. And your son, in a subtlety of revolutionary stance, did something black men were trained to know not to do. He looked police in the eye. And when he looked the police in the eye, they knew that there was a threat, because they're used to black men with their head bowed down low, with their spirit broken. He was a threat simply because he was man enough to look somebody in authority in the eye. I want to tell this grieving mother ... you are not burying a boy, you are burying a grown man. He knew that one of the principles of being a man is looking somebody in the eye.

John Felton made it out of his encounter with the Dayton police officer with only a citation. As you can see from watching his video, he knew it could have been worse.

“No disrespect—I don’t have nothing against police officers,” Felton said after being pulled over. “But with all the shit that’s going on, that’s some scary shit, to have a police officer just trailing you.”

Not that he was surprised—you can hear him say “Didn't I say he was going to do this?” to his brother at the beginning of the interaction. Nor should he have been. According to the book Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship, a sociological study of traffic stops in the Kansas City metropolitan area, black people are much more likely to be pulled over for so-called investigatory stops—in which the purported violation is extremely minor, like failing to signal, as opposed to serious, like driving drunk—than white people. As my colleague Jamelle Bouie wrote after the murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina—following a traffic stop for a busted taillight—the study found that more than half of all stops for blacks were for minor violations, as opposed to just 34 percent of stops for whites.  

Aug. 28 2015 3:41 PM

Former New Hampshire Prep Student Acquitted of Sexual Assault, Convicted of Other Felony

Former New Hampshire prep student Owen Labrie was acquitted of felony sexual assault charges involving a 15-year-old former fellow student Friday but convicted of statutory rape and of a felony charge of using a computer to "entice a child under the age of 16." Labrie's trial had involved accusations that he penetrated the younger student without her consent as part of a "Senior Salute" tradition—a tradition, more or less, in which seniors try to persuade younger students to have sex—at the prestigious St. Paul's school. From the AP:

The young man was acquitted of the most serious charges against him — three counts of felony rape, each punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison. But he was found guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, using a computer to lure a minor for sex, and child endangerment.
Essentially, the jury cleared Labrie of forcible rape but concluded he did, in fact, have intercourse, oral sex and other sexual contact with the girl, and for that, it found him guilty of statutory rape, because she was underage and could not legally consent.

The accuser had testified in court that Labrie had penetrated her even after she said "No, no, no, keep it up here" during what had previously been a consensual encounter.

Labrie will face up to 11 years in prison during his sentencing and will reportedly have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Update, 2:50 p.m.: Some outlets, such as Boston.com, are not describing the misdemeanor sexual assault charges that Labrie was convicted of as statutory rape per se—in New Hampshire, the site says, the term "statutory rape" usually refers specifically to felony sexual assault laws that apply if the perpetrator is more than four years older than the victim. Labrie was not four years older than his accuser, so he was instead convicted under a state law (one that falls under the colloquial understanding of "statutory rape" if not the specific New Hampshire sense of the term) which says any sexual contact with an individual under 16 is misdemeanor sexual assault even if it is consensual because anyone younger than 16 is too young to consent.

Aug. 28 2015 3:33 PM

Obama Again Tries to Convince Jews He Doesn’t Want to Destroy Israel

President Obama today spoke directly to American Jews in a webcast address cosponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations today. The event was something of a response to an address by Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, in which the Israeli Prime Minister made his case against the nuclear agreement with Iran currently under consideration by Congress.

Obama made the now familiar case that the deal “doesn’t rely on trust, it relies on verification” and that supporting it does not require trusting Iran’s intentions. He said that disagreement between the U.S. and Israeli government over the deal “does not affect the core commitments we have to each other” and that “the commitment to Israel is sacrosanct and it is non-partisan. It always has been and it always will be.” Speaking to fears in Israel and the Jewish community about anti-Semitic rhetoric from the Iranian government, the president said, “I think that as an African-American, I understand that history teaches us that man can be cruel to man and you have to take threats seriously. But history also teaches us that sometimes the best security is to enter into negotiations with your enemies.

Obama has made many of these points before in press conferences and speeches since the deal was signed. The administration’s aggressive sales pitch for the deal has been premised on the notion that if critics only fully understood it, they would realize that it’s the best choice for the security of the U.S. as well as Israel. As the president told viewers today, “the more information, the more confident you’ll be that this is the right thing to do.” As I’ve written before, I think this premise is flawed.

No realistically conceivable deal was ever going to satisfy the critics now arguing against it. This opposition is not based on the specifics of the agreement. In part, it’s knee-jerk partisanship and pandering—at the moment it looks as if not a single Congressional Republican will support the deal—as well as an honest disagreement about the nature of the Iranian regime. President Obama and the agreement’s supporters believe that for all their many flaws, Iran’s leaders are rational actors who can be influenced through incentives. Netanyahu and opponents of the deal believe they are ideologically-driven, inveterate antagonists of the U.S. and Israel who will take any opportunity to cheat on their nuclear commitments and provoke terrorism.

Given this seemingly unbridgeable divide, as well as the fact that the deal now seems almost guaranteed to pass, it’s odd that Obama is even bothering to make such an aggressive sales pitch. Part of the reason, as shown by today’s event, is that many of the deal’s most prominent opponents are American Jewish leaders and organizations, many of whom have long suggested that this administration is less than forthright in its support for Israel—an allegation that clearly makes the administration uncomfortable, no matter how ludicrous they may find it.  

The debate over the deal has spawned a side debate over whether proponents of the deal have indulged in coded anti-Semitism by suggesting that opponents don’t have America’s best interests in mind. Some have also suggested that all the attention on the Jewish affiliations of anti-deal members of Congress like Chuck Schumer and Steve Israel crosses a line by suggesting that American Jewish leaders have dual loyalties.

This is silly. It’s not exactly a mystery that opponents of the deal have targeted Jewish members of Congress as well as those like Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey who represent significant Jewish constituencies. With AIPAC spending a record $1.67 million this year as it has lobbied against the deal, it’s hard to pretend pressure from pro-Israel groups isn’t a factor in this debate.

Speaking to the issue of tone, the president today argued “at no point have I ever suggested that someone is a warmonger” and said he believes their concerns are sincere. (This is, perhaps, a bit of a stretch.)  He also noted that Jewish New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who supports the deal, has been “attacked in ways that are appalling.”

Baseless or not, the White House would presumably like to avoid the impression that it’s blasé or even hostile to Jewish concerns, particularly heading into an election season where Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton will be repeatedly bashed on the campaign trail for abandoning U.S. support for Israel. On the other hand, it’s the Jewish community as a whole isn’t actually that concerned about the deal. At least one recent poll suggested American Jews are more likely to support it than non-Jews.

Despite the opposition of some very prominent and vocal Jewish groups and representatives, the vast majority of American Jews are Democrats. As the president put it today, “I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for friends and supporters in the Jewish community.” That may not continue forever, but given polls showing younger American Jews with less of an attachment to Israel than their parents,  Netanyahu may ultimately have the bigger outreach problem. 

Aug. 28 2015 2:37 PM

Black 24-Year-Old Dies in Jail After Four Months Awaiting Trial for 7-Eleven Snack Theft

In July, Sandra Bland's death from an apparent suicide in a Texas jail three days after being pulled over for an improper lane change (and allegedly assaulting the officer who pulled her over) put national attention on the issue of excessive bail; that issue is likely to be scrutinized even more after a Friday Guardian report about the case of Jaymycheal Mitchell, a 24-year-old black man in Portsmouth, Virginia, with mental health issues who died last week, apparently after starving himself, after spending four months in jail awaiting trial on charges he'd stolen snacks from a 7-Eleven. From the piece by reporter Jon Swaine:

Mitchell’s family said they believed he starved to death after refusing meals and medication at the jail, where he was being held on misdemeanour charges of petty larceny and trespassing. A clerk at Portsmouth district court said Mitchell was accused of stealing a bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake worth a total of $5 from a 7-Eleven.

A jail official said Mitchell's death is considered to have been due to "natural causes." According to the piece, a judge had ordered about a month after Mitchell's arrest that he be transferred to a mental health facility. But the transfer never took place, leading to this cringe-inducing exchange:

When asked which state agency was ultimately responsible for ensuring Mitchell was transferred to the hospital, the court clerk said: “It’s hard to tell who’s responsible for it.”

And:

Officials from the court, the police department and the jail could not explain why Mitchell was not given the opportunity to be released on bail.

You can read the entire troubling piece here, and you can read here about the similar case of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide this year after having been held from 2010 through 2013 in New York's Rikers Island jail without ever having been convicted of a crime.

Aug. 28 2015 2:23 PM

This Week’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings

Hello and welcome to the Slatest’s weekly 2016 Twitter Power Rankings, where every Friday we’ll round-up each of the White House hopeful’s most successful tweets from the past week. Why are we doing this? For starters, it will provide a helpful—if incomplete—snapshot of the topics that candidates are talking about online, and which of those are resonating with voters on social media. And, as the campaign continues to unfold online and off, it will also hopefully allow us to draw some conclusions about which candidates are winning the campaign Twitter wars and why.

A few ground rules up front:

  1. We’re defining a candidate’s most successful tweet as the one that receives the most retweets—though in the event two or more tweets are neck-and-neck, the one with significantly more favorites will get the edge.
  2. Tweets that include a direct request for a retweet are ineligible because that’s cheating. RT if you agree!
  3. If a candidate has more than one account, we’ll use the one tied to his or her official presidential campaign. (Or, in the case of blue checkmark-less Jim Gilmore, what we think is his official account.)
  4. Only tweets from the past seven days are eligible. Since we’ll try to publish the weekly rankings every Friday, that means any tweet sent between the past Saturday and the morning we go live.

You’ll find this week’s takeaways at the bottom, but without any further ado, here’s Week 1’s ranking:

1.) Hillary Clinton

2.) Donald Trump

3.) Bernie Sanders

4.) Ben Carson

5.) Ted Cruz

6.) Bobby Jindal

7.) George Pataki

8.) Marco Rubio

9.) Jeb Bush

10.) Rand Paul

11.) Carly Fiorina

12.) Scott Walker

13.) Rick Perry

14.) John Kasich

15.) Mike Huckabee

16.) Chris Christie

17.) Martin O’Malley

18.) Rick Santorum

19.) Jim Webb

20.) Lindsey Graham

21.) Lincoln Chafee

22.) Jim Gilmore

Winner: Hillary!

Trump gets all the headlines, and Bernie gets all the buzz. But online, like off, it’s Hillary Clinton with the commanding lead. At 4.13 million followers, the Democratic frontrunner has about 200,000 more than Trump, and more than 10 times the followers of both her biggest rival on the left (Bernie Sanders at 381K) and on the right (Jeb Bush at 279K). When Hillary flexes her Twitter muscles—especially on a gimme like equal pay or gun control—she’s tough to beat.

What else? On the Republican side, there’s Trump and there’s everyone else.

Given The Donald’s domination in the polls and in the media, it’s no surprise that the once-and-future reality TV star also has a commanding lead on the rest of his GOP rivals on Twitter. With nearly 4 million followers, Trump has more than four times the reach of Marco Rubio, who has the second-most followers in the Republican field. Trump’s particular brand of belligerence is perfectly suited to the hostile world of Twitter, where 140-word nuance is difficult to find. This past week alone, Trump has found success by bludgeoning his rivals, both real and perceived: His attacks on Lindsey Graham and Megyn Kelly were retweeted more than 3,000 times, while his digs at Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders both received more than 4,000 retweets.

Last thing: When it doubt, attack!

Trump’s not the only one to find social media success by going on the offensive. Roughly a third the candidates’ top tweets from this week were an attack of some kind, from Rand Paul’s Clinton and Bush two-for to George Pataki’s ongoing quest to say Trump’s name even more than Trump does. Americans like to retweet heartfelt messages of condolences—but not nearly as much as they like to cheer on a good political punch.

Aug. 28 2015 1:43 PM

The Most Dire Weather Forecast Ever Issued

Ten years ago this morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks faced a dilemma. As the forecast coordinator that day for the Slidell, Louisiana, office—which has responsibility for New Orleans—he needed to find a way to convey the urgency and seriousness of the situation his region would face the next day as Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

This is what he came up with:

CNgVa3LWcAAwzCf
"human suffering incredible by modern standards"

National Weather Service

These bold words, considered by many to be the most dire—and effective—weather forecast ever issued by the National Weather Service, are now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, along with a rosary from Ricks’ grandmother he held as he and his fellow forecasters rode out the storm.

At a conference of broadcast meteorologists earlier this year, Ricks said, “On that particular fateful day, when I issued that product … I was awestruck.”

Another, less widely circulated official forecast he issued that day, the Area Forecast Discussion, was more to the point: “Godspeed to all those in the path of this storm.”

Bold statements like Ricks’ have been occasionally used—and officially encouraged—in recent years by the National Weather Service, as part of an effort to increase the effectiveness of sometimes bland government bulletins during true weather emergencies. Most notably, meteorologist Gary Szatkowski’s “personal plea” during Hurricane Sandy’s New York City-area landfall in 2012—which included gut-wrenching statements like “if you are still reluctant (to evacuate), think about your loved ones”—earned him hero status.

Ten years later, Ricks is happy that his statement helped motivate evacuations of New Orleans during Katrina, and that it’s paved the way for blunt honesty from forecasters during times of crisis. But personally, he’s seen enough hurricanes. At the conference earlier this year, Ricks said The Statement had already done its job: “We hope we never have to use it again. My career is fulfilled if I never have to do this ever again, trust me.”

Aug. 28 2015 1:39 PM

Legendary Lost Nazi “Gold Train” Might Actually Be Real

Stories about the possible discovery of a long-lost "Nazi gold train" in Poland have been floating around recently, but I was ignoring them because Slate generally tries to only publish real facts and, c'mon, a Nazi gold train? The potential existence of said train is now being discussed even in the august pages of the New York Times, though, and a Polish government official has gone on the record to say that he  believes it's been located. From the Times:

Local lore says a German train filled with gold, gems and armaments went missing around the city of Walbrzych while it was fleeing the Red Army in the spring of 1945 ... During the war, the Germans built a system of underground tunnels in the mountainous region of Walbrzych and the city of Wroclaw, from where the train is believed to have departed.

Two men whose identities have not been made public told authorities they've found the train and have asked for a financial reward to reveal its specific location. Polish deputy culture minister Piotr Zuchowski is involved in the case:

[Zuchowski] said he was shown an image — albeit blurred — from a ground-penetrating radar that showed the shape of a train platform and cannons, and added he was "more than 99 percent certain that this train exists."

Let's throw a keg party in the gold train!

Aug. 28 2015 12:30 PM

Tropical Storm Erika Causes Havoc in the Caribbean, Threatens to Flood Florida

With a murky forecast looming, Tropical Storm Erika continues to cause headaches for meteorologists and those in its path.

On Friday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and activated the state’s National Guard as Erika slowly made its way through the Caribbean toward the United States mainland. Over the last 10 years, Florida hasn’t had a single hurricane landfall, an unusual stretch of slow activity.

The latest official forecast from the National Hurricane Center looks to continue that streak. Friday’s NHC outlook no longer calls for a hurricane strength landfall in Florida, and instead predicts that Erika will dawdle over Florida for two or three days, boosting the potential for copious rainfall. Parts of South Florida are currently in extreme drought, though the current forecast is likely to bring flooding to many spots.

But first, Erika still poses a threat to the Caribbean. On Friday, heavy rain will continue affecting the islands, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic likely to feel the strongest impact. This is a part of the world where it doesn’t take an extremely intense storm to cause real damage. As Erika passed through the eastern Caribbean on Thursday morning, the storm dropped more than a foot of rain on the island of Dominica in just 12 hours, leading to intense flash flooding. A government official from Dominica told a news station in Trinidad and Tobago that 25 people had died in one community alone, and that the island’s main airport had been “totally devastated.” He also said floodwaters reached 4-5 feet high in the capital, creating harrowing scenes.

In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne left more than 2,500 people dead in Haiti—likely the deadliest tropical storm landfall ever to occur in the Atlantic. In 2008, a series of two tropical storms and two hurricanes in quick succession killed hundreds more. On Thursday, Haiti activated its national emergency plan in advance of Erika. The National Hurricane Center expects 3 to 10 inches of rainfall there by Saturday.

Forecasters trying to anticipate the storm’s path and strength beyond Saturday have been thwarted by a chaotic spread in weather model output for days. Over the last 24 hours, weather models have gradually shifted from a potential hurricane off Florida’s East Coast strengthening toward the Carolinas and perhaps the Mid-Atlantic, to a somewhat weaker storm squarely aimed at southern Florida.

The outlook for Florida will remain opaque until the center of Erika re-emerges on the north side of Haiti, likely sometime on Saturday. At that point, the storm will have about 36 hours to intensify over the warmer-than-normal water of the Bahamas before its likely landfall in Florida. That’s plenty of time for a hurricane to form, as had been indicated for the past few days, although no major model is showing that scenario at the moment.

READ MORE STORIES