Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Nov. 19 2014 10:09 AM

Jason Collins, First Openly Gay NBA Player, Retires

Jason Collins—the NBA veteran who announced publicly in Sports Illustrated in 2013 that he is gay—will retire from basketball, he writes today in the same publication. He played in 22 games last season for the Brooklyn Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of the United States' major sports leagues during a contest against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 23 of this year.

Writes Collins:

It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. I’m happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.
Among the memories I will cherish most are the warm applause I received in Los Angeles when I took the court in my Nets debut, and the standing ovation I got at my first home game in Brooklyn. It shows how far we’ve come. The most poignant moment came at my third game, in Denver, where I met the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in a 1998 hate crime on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. For the past two years I have worn number 98 on my jersey to honor his memory.

Collins will make a public statement today at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. "There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball," he says in his piece. "Believe me: They exist."

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Nov. 18 2014 11:31 PM

Georgia Police Reopen Dwight Howard Child Abuse Investigation 

Georgia police have reopened a child abuse investigation of Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, Cobb County police said on Tuesday. The case investigating Howard’s treatment of his son, who was six years old at the time of the incident, was opened on Oct. 1, but police suspended the initial probe due to lack of evidence. Over the last 48 hours however, police say new information has led them to reopen the case.

“The case involves an incident from last summer in which Howard admitted to authorities that he had hit his child with a belt,” ESPN reports. “[Howard] told police that he was disciplined in such a manner growing up and didn't realize it was wrong.”

“Police declined to elaborate on the details of the Howard investigation, which followed a prior probe of the same accusation in Florida,” according to Reuters. “Howard's attorney, David Oscar Markus, said in a statement that Florida authorities previously investigated the allegations and found them to be not substantiated… In court documents from the Florida civil case, the NBA star said he disciplined his son ‘in an appropriate manner when necessary,’ but ‘never caused marks, bruises, welts or injuries requiring medical treatment.’”

The accusations against the NBA star come as a number of professional athletes have come under fire for their conduct in their personal lives. The NFL suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on Tuesday for the remainder of the season, and potentially longer, after Peterson was accused of child abuse. "We are aware of the allegations concerning Dwight Howard and are in the process of independently gathering the facts," NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass told USA Today.

Nov. 18 2014 8:30 PM

Model Janice Dickinson Says Bill Cosby Sexually Assaulted Her

Model Janice Dickinson at a fashion show in Feb. 2014.

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

The allegations of sexual assault directed at comedian Bill Cosby continue to mount. On Tuesday, supermodel Janice Dickinson joined more than a dozen other women, saying Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1982. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Dickinson, who is now 59, recounted how Cosby struck up what appeared to be a professional relationship with her more than 30 years ago.

Dickinson says Cosby reached out to her during a trip to Bali and had her travel to Lake Tahoe, because he was performing there and wanted to offer her the job they had discussed as well as help her with a singing career. Dickinson says they had dinner in Lake Tahoe, and claims that he gave her a glass of red wine and a pill, which she asked for because she was menstruating and had stomach pains.
“The next morning I woke up, and I wasn't wearing my pajamas, and I remember before I passed out that I had been sexually assaulted by this man,” she tells ET. “... Before I woke up in the morning, the last thing I remember was Bill Cosby in a patchwork robe, dropping his robe and getting on top of me. And I remember a lot of pain. The next morning I remember waking up with my pajamas off and there was semen in between my legs."
“Stuffing feelings of rape and my unresolved [issues] with this incident has drove me into a life of trying to hurt myself because I didn't have counsel and I was afraid,” she says. “I was afraid of the consequences. I was afraid of being labeled a whore or a slut and trying to sleep my way to the top of a career that never took place.”

Dickinson also told Entertainment Tonight she wrote about the assault in her 2002 autobiography No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel, butwhen she submitted a draft with her full story to HarperCollins, Cosby and his lawyers pressured her and the publisher to remove the details.”

Nov. 18 2014 8:08 PM

Landrieu Struggles to Spin Failed Keystone XL Vote

After her last-ditch effort to save her re-election bid went down in a blaze of glory, Sen. Mary Landrieu tried to put on a brave face.

Landrieu, whose prospects in the Dec. 6 Louisiana Senate runoff are none too sunny, pushed hard for a vote to authorize construction on the Keystone XL pipeline as a final effort to prove she could get something done in Congress (others have made Hail Mary jokes; I will refrain). She got the vote to happen, but—as expected—fell one vote short of the 60 needed for passage.

Getting the provision passed probably wouldn’t have saved Landrieu’s Senate career. But it wouldn’t have hurt. Instead, the Louisiana Democrat had to explain the tough outcome to a crowd of inquisitive reporters (myself included) eager to add another chapter to their chronicles of her demise.

Fortunately for her, she had company. Fellow red-state Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.) joined her in the Senate Studio to try to deliver an optimistic postmortem.

“I look forward to the next Congress when Mary Landrieu, Joe Manchin, and a number of our other great Democratic senators who stepped up to say yes to jobs and yes to rational energy policy, will be back fighting this issue,” said Heitkamp, smiling a bit sadly.

To be fair, it is mathematically possible that Landrieu will be back next year.

Landrieu angled to present herself as a happy warrior.

“There is no blame,” she said of the night’s loss. “There is only joy in the fight. Where I come from, we just never talk about quitting and we don’t talk about whining.”

Landrieu also tried to explain her bullish and false prediction that she would get the support needed. She knew she had a sizable coalition of Senators on her side, she said, and she thought that coalition would be able to persuade one more Senator to join up. Alas!

The worst thing about this for Landrieu is that it could backfire, undermining a central tenet of her case for re-election: that she has the Capitol Hill clout to get things done. Within minutes of the vote’s failure, Republican challenger Bill Cassidy started needling her on Twitter.

His second tweet featured a picture of a turned-off light switch with the word “CLOUT” written over it. The meaning of that image is a little fuzzy—turn down for clout, or something?

Landrieu could have a tricky time shutting down that argument, though. Republicans will say that this vote was a litmus test on her ability to make things happen, and that she failed it.

“Only a senior member that has been here as long as I have could recognize the opportunity,” she said when asked about Republicans’ inevitable case against her.

“My experience is still valuable,” she said.

Heitkamp and Manchin then circled the wagons.

“I’ve been able to see, in the short time Mary has been the chairman, that we’re able to move things forward, to have discussions we’ve never had before,” said Manchin.

“It’s important for Mary to come back,” he added. “I’ve told the people of Louisiana, I sure do hope they understand that.”

Then Heitkamp jumped in.

“I think that we talk about clout,” she said. “But the single most important attribute of a successful Senator is tenacity, is the willingness to put it all on the line.”

But is it? Landrieu certainly demonstrated a species of tenacity. But she didn’t get the promised outcome. There are only so many ways to spin that. 

Nov. 18 2014 7:19 PM

Senate Narrowly Defeats Bill Authorizing Construction of Keystone Pipeline

The Senate narrowly defeated a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday evening. The Senate vote came up one vote short of the 60 needed to advance the $8 billion pipeline that would carry petroleum from the tar-sand pits in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Fourteen Democrats joined all 45 Republican Senators in voting for the bill that opponents say carries with it significant environmental consequences.

The failure to pass the measure, the Wall Street Journal notes, delivered “a political setback to Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D., La.), who had pushed for the vote as a way to show political clout in her runoff race against challenger Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.” The Keystone pipeline has become a major campaign issue in the Louisiana senate race with the House passing Rep. Cassidy’s Keystone proposal last week. The measure is a popular potential employment generator in Louisiana, as the state is set to hold a runoff election between Landrieu and Cassidy on Dec. 6.

“Shortly after the vote was tallied, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will become the Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take control of the Senate in January, said he will bring up the issue again ‘early next year,’ ” ABC News reports. Even if the bill had passed, President Obama was expected to veto it.

Nov. 18 2014 6:12 PM

Iran's Parliament Rejects Fourth Rouhani Nominee For Key Post

On Tuesday, Iran's parliament rejected the fourth person that President Hassan Rouhani has nominated to lead the Ministry of Higher Education, the latest example of the moderate president's agenda being hampered by conservative factions within the country.

Universities have of late been hubs of pro-democracy activism in Iran, creating conflict over top education jobs. In February, Farhad Rahbar, the controversial chancellor of the University of Tehran, was ordered to step down by Reza Faraji-Dana, who at the time led the Ministry of Higher Education. Rahbar was notorious for forcing reformist professors to retire and cracking down on student protests after Iran's controversial "stolen election" in 2009. Students who protested Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's ’09 re-election were brutally beaten and dragged from their dorms by police; 133 were arrested and 5 were killed.

After Rahbar was removed, though, Reza Faraji-Dana was himself impeached and removed by parliament—he'd drawn ire for his perceived tolerance of politics in the university sphere and leniency towards students involved in the election protests. His Ministry had also begun investigating fraudulent and illegal scholarships under the previous administration, apparently granted to more than 3,000 ineligible candidates. So President Rouhani is now saddled with the task of trying to sell parliament on a replacement. This week, in the case of Fakhroldin Ahmadi Danesh Ashtiani, Rouhani's pitch didn't take and parliament voted 171-70 to reject his nomination. On to the next one!

Nov. 18 2014 4:57 PM

Harvard Sued for Discriminating Against "High-Achieving Asian Americans"

Lawsuits filed by an activist organization on behalf of rejected applicants allege that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action policies discriminate against individuals with Asian ancestry by limiting the number of such applicants that may be admitted. From Bloomberg:

Such applicants “understand that they are not competing” against “the entire applicant pool,” the group said in its filing against Harvard’s governing body, the Harvard Corp., in Boston federal court. “They are competing only against each other, and all other racial and ethnic groups are insulated from competing against high-achieving Asian Americans.”

Both institutions have responded that their admissions policies are consistent with federal law.

The Supreme Court has held that race can be considered on an individual and "holistic" basis in admissions decisions in order to attain the educational and social benefits of diversity. But quotas—or point-system bonuses—are unacceptable. "[Candidate X] immigrated to America from Colombia with her family when she was 11, perhaps her experience could deepen the rich tapestry that is our campus discourse," is an OK admissions-office thing to say. "We need three more women from the Balkans, let's just grab the first three that are on the pile and then it's Miller Time" is not.

However! In remanding the case of Fisher v. University of Texas to a lower court in 2013, SCOTUS held that schools have a responsibility to attempt race-neutral means of achieving diversity (giving a leg up to low-income applicants, say) before turning to race-conscious means, and it's not clear whether the Court would agree that Harvard and UNC have met that test. So this is an interesting issue. Too bad that it involves subjects like "race" and "affirmative action" and "Harvard" that most Americans consider "boring"  and "old news" and "unlikely to trigger Thanksgiving arguments in which the consideration of a question that neither side has spent more than five minutes thinking about quickly devolves into screaming about deeply held but often self-contradictory values and grievances." You'll probably never hear about this case again.

Nov. 18 2014 11:55 AM

State Department Response to ISIS Twitter Troll Cites Hungarian Pornography

The image above is an exchange between an official Department of State Twitter account and an account that had sent out ISIS propaganda purporting to show an image of a Sunni Muslim woman being sexually assaulted. (The original ISIS tweet is here; it's graphic, obviously.)

The "Think Again Turn Away" account is part of a larger ISIS counter-propaganda campaign run by a former Time magazine managing editor who now works for the State Department.

For what it's worth, Google searches for "ISIS Hungarian porn" and "Islamic State Hungarian porn" turn up no other reference online to the allegedly switched image.

Nov. 18 2014 10:42 AM

NFL Suspends Adrian Peterson Through at Least Remainder of Season

The NFL announced this morning that it will suspend Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who recently pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge after being accused of child abuse, for at least the rest of this season. Peterson "will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15, 2015," ESPN reports.

Peterson was accused of injuring his 4-year-old son by hitting him with a switch and has not played in an NFL game since Sept. 7.

The NFL's statement includes a chastising letter written to Peterson by commissioner Roger Goodell. The commissioner has written and released such letters in the past, though this appears to be the first time he's done so since his own moral standing was heavily scrutinized during the scandal surrounding Ray Rice's domestic violence arrest:

"You have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct," Goodell's letter said. "When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not 'eliminate whooping my kids' and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child's mother. You also said that you felt 'very confident with my actions because I know my intent.'

(The "whooping my kids" comment comes from an interview Houston police conducted with Peterson.)

The NFL Players Association says it will appeal the suspension. "Our initial reaction is that the process that the NFL has employed since the beginning of the season has been arbitrary, inconsistent, and uneven,"  Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said on ESPN Radio this morning. "You get the feeling that the NFL, over the past few months, has been simply making it up as they go along."

Nov. 18 2014 9:51 AM

Four Rabbis, Police Officer Killed in Jerusalem Terror Attack

Update, 6:30 p.m.: A police officer who was critically wounded in the attack has died.

Original post, 9:50 a.m.: Two Palestinians armed with knives, axes, and guns killed four rabbis at a synagogue in what the New York Times describes as an "ultra-Orthodox" neighborhood in Jerusalem this morning. It's the deadliest attack in Jerusalem in three years and the latest in a series of incidents that have followed Israel's temporary closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim holy site, last month. The attackers were killed by police at the scene. From the Times:

Relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32. They were described as being motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly asserted that he will not alter the status quo at the site, where non-Muslims can visit but not openly pray, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has called on Palestinians to protect the area and has warned of a “holy war” if it is “contaminated” by Jews.

American Secretary of State John Kerry notably called the attack "a pure result of incitement," apparently referring to recent statements by Abbas and other Palestinian leaders about Al-Aqsa. Said Abbas in a statement: “We condemn the killings of worshipers at the synagogue in Jerusalem and condemn acts of violence no matter their source.”

In Gaza City and the West Bank, the Times says, "some distributed sweets and paraded through the streets singing victory songs." In Jerusalem, according to Haaretz, right-wing Israelis "gathered near the scene of the attack, calling 'Death to Arabs' and 'Revenge.' "