The Friday Slatest Newsletter
Today's biggest stories:
- A weasel caused the Large Hadron Collider to malfunction. That's not a metaphor or something: The machine broke because of an actual weasel.
- NBC confused Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland with accused serial killer Robert Durst.
- A man who had appeared on Fox News at least 76 times as a CIA veteran and national security expert pleaded guilty to a number of fraud charges; the government says he was never in the CIA at all.
- There's a massive anti-Semitism scandal happening in the U.K. that involves a violation of the basic political rule "don't claim that Hitler was actually a Zionist."
- A New York Times reporter says the Pentagon's report about last October's airstrike on an Afghani hospital is wrong about the critical detail of whether the hospital was clearly marked as a refuge for noncombatants.
- A number of prominent Republicans have decided or appear to have decided that, like death, Trump's nomination is inevitable. Among them: Marco Rubio and Indiana governor Mike Pence (who endorsed Ted Cruz but only after covering his bases by talking about how great Trump is). Here's today's Trump Apocalypse Watch.
- And a spokesman for the Satanic Temple objected to John Boehner's characterization of Ted Cruz as "Lucifer in the flesh."
Have a good weekend out there.
Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: #NeverTrump Collapses
The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.
The news today was all about different Republicans wearily dropping their objections to Donald Trump becoming the party's nominee. Most prominent were Marco Rubio and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Rubio, who once sold #NeverTrump memorabilia on his website, said the real estate heir has a "valid" claim to the nomination; Pence tepidly endorsed Ted Cruz, but only after making sure to praise Trump. Meanwhile, the Washington Post spoke to a number of different establishment-ish figures who say that word on the street is that it's going to be Trump's nomination and everyone might as well get used to it.
Should this make us more concerned about the possibility of a Trump presidency? I don't think so, really—we already knew he was likely to be nominated, and the prominent Republicans acknowledging as much are doing so grudgingly at best. An enthusiastic, unified party may well eventually emerge to give Trump its strong backing in November, but that hasn't happened yet.
What You Need to Know About Britain’s Raging Anti-Semitism Scandal
Britain is currently enmeshed in a scandal over members of the Labour Party making anti-Semitic comments. It’s a very complicated flap with a lot of characters and subplots. The following is an attempt to untangle the strands.
Why are we here?
A Labour MP has been suspended from the party for comments that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic. This comes on the heels of a series of miniature crises over the issue of anti-Semitism that has wracked the party for the last month or so.
You said, “have been interpreted.” Does that mean you don’t think the comments were anti-Semitic?
No. I think they were.
OK, who said what when?
Well a lot of people said a lot of things at a lot of different times. But the MP who was suspended was Naseem “Naz” Shah. Her offending statements, made on Facebook, were ostensibly a critique of Israel but could also very easily be read as anti-Semitic.
What did she post?
In 2014, Shah posted a meme on her Facebook wall with a map of Israel superimposed on a map of the United States labeled “Solution for the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” Under the map was the solution: “Relocate Israel into the United States.” Shah’s accompanying message said “problem solved.” She also compared Israel to Nazi Germany, posting a meme with the quote “never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal” alongside the message “Apartheid Israel.”
What’s wrong with that?
Please don’t make me explain.
OK, fine. Has she apologized yet?
So that’s it then?
No, no, no. Another Labour member stepped in to defend Shah, and made things much worse.
Agh, who is this “Another Labor member” and what did he say?
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a longtime friend and ally of the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was recently brought back into the party fold by Corbyn. He too was suspended from the party after saying this: "When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."
OK, seriously this time: What’s wrong with what he said? Isn’t that just, like, historical fact?
Uh, no. Saying that Hitler only went into an insane anti-Semitic fury after 1932 ignores Mein Kampf, and the Beer Hall Putsch, and basically many years spent espousing rabid anti-Semitism. In 1925’s Mein Kampf, in fact, Hitler wrote of his genocidal desires.
Also, Livingstone’s statement that Hitler was “supporting Zionism,” which Livingstone has defended as merely citing “facts,” is very factually wrong. According to an article Yale history professor Timothy Snyder wrote for the BBC, “[Hitler believed] that Zionism was one of many deliberately deceptive labels that Jews placed upon what he believed to be their endless striving for global power and the extermination of the human species.” So, nope, he was not a supporter of Zionism.
Where did Livingstone get that stuff from, then?
The premise of Livingstone’s myth seems to be based on a thing that actually happened, which was called the Transfer Agreement. That was a 1933 pact that allowed for certain types of emigration by Jews from Nazi Germany to British Palestine. The actual number of Jews that made it out of Germany as a result of the agreement is uncertain. Either way, Hitler’s feelings about the agreement were apparently mixed and the regime only viewed it as a way to try to negotiate the end to a Jewish boycott of the Nazi state that they feared would hurt their already fragile economy. And, anyway, there were other emigration plans for German Jews considered and approved by the Nazi regime, including one for immigration to Madagascar, but that doesn’t mean Hitler wasn’t a genocidal maniac and rabid anti-Semite from very early on who was actually secretly a Madagascan Zionist.
Good point. So: You said there were other incidents of recent Labour Party anti-Semitism? What were some of those?
Oy. Where to begin. Last month, a party official named Vicki Kirby was suspended after it was discovered that she had tweeted that Jews “have big noses” and “slaughter the oppressed.” (This, after she had been reinstated to the party, having been previously suspended in 2014 for suggesting that Hitler was a “Zionist God” and that ISIS should attack Israel.) Shortly after Kirby’s latest suspension, a Labour councilor and the former lord mayor of Bradford, Khadim Hussain, was suspended from the party after sharing a Facebook post that said “[y]our school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler.” Also, earlier in the month, prominent members of the party accused it of burying an investigation into anti-Semitism at Oxford University’s Labour Party group. And last year, a Labour Party councilor was suspended after accusing Israel of supporting ISIS. I think that’s it but could totally be missing something, because there’s a lot!
Yikes. Where is Corbyn in all of this?
Corbyn is facing an early leadership crisis and accusations that he has handled everything very poorly, especially ahead of crucial local elections for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly, and more than 2,000 local council seats to be held on Thursday. He has, however, seemed to regain his footing by enacting the suspensions and announcing an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism within the party. Still, Labor is expected to do badly in the Scottish election, while likely winning a crucial mayoral election in London.
And the British people?
Anti-Semitism is not just a Labour problem. It’s a national problem, with anti-Semitic incidents on the rise in recent years. And in a 2015 YouGov survey, nearly 50 percent of respondents agreed with at least one of four anti-Semitic statements they were asked about. One in four polled said that Jews chased money more than other people, while 1 in 5 said British Jews weren’t as loyal to the U.K. because of their loyalty to Israel.
Ugh. So what’s going to happen to Livingstone, Shah, and Corbyn?
It’s uncertain. Corbyn, who won a surprise election as the leader of Britain’s main opposition party last year in a Bernie Sanders–style insurgency, has been battered in the British press and among members of his own party for failing to do enough to act against anti-Semitism. He will likely continue to face pressure to do more on the issue, but he’s got four years till he is scheduled to challenge current Prime Minister David Cameron in an election, barring a vote of no confidence or some other exceptional circumstance, so he may have some time to get his stuff together. If the party does poorly in the upcoming local elections, though, there’s speculation that he might face a party coup.
Corbyn’s friend, Livingstone, is probably reaching the end of his short-lived political comeback, considering he was only holding a party position and not elected office. Shah, meanwhile, issued multiple apologies saying she made the posts during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza “when emotions were running high,” and that the language she used was “wrong” and “hurtful.” But the pressure on Corbyn, who was heavily criticized for initially failing to act against Shah, to keep her out of the party will be great. Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who holds one of the top positions in the opposition party, had called on members of the party who have expressed anti-Semitic views to be banned for life. This was prior to the Shah incident, though, and ironically she had been serving as a parliamentary private secretary to him before being forced to resign from that post for this latest controversy.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got. Hope it was helpful. And happy Passover!
Times Reporter Says U.S. Is Wrong About Critical Detail in Doctors Without Borders Report
The Pentagon has released a report about the October 2015 airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed 42 people; the military says the strike was an extremely unfortunate accident and is punishing 16 individuals who were involved but not prosecuting any of them criminally. One fairly important assertion in the U.S.'s report is that the hospital "did not have an internationally-recognized symbol to identify it as a medical facility, such as a Red Cross or Red Crescent that was readily visible to the aircrew at night." But New York Times reporter Joseph Goldstein—who reported on the incident from Afghanistan—says that is not quite true:
Blaming the victims?Military says MSF hospital didn't have a visible “internationally-recognized symbol" such as red cross or crescent. 1/2— Joe Goldstein (@JoeKGoldstein) April 29, 2016
It was brightly lit.Spread on the hospital roof was a large white & red flag reading “Médecins Sans Frontières,”the group’s French name. 2/2— Joe Goldstein (@JoeKGoldstein) April 29, 2016
Gawker notes that the U.S. report says there is footage of the attack taken from the AC-130U gunship (an airplane) that carried it out; such footage could conceivably answer the question of what was on the hospital's roof, but it has not been released.
Garland Watch: Supreme Court Nominee Mistaken for Robert Durst, Still Getting No Hearings
Merrick Garland had a busy week. Apart from meetings with senators and public appearances, the nominee was also mistaken for real estate heir and alleged murderer Robert Durst. On Wednesday morning, NBC News tweeted a story about Durst’s seven-year sentence on a weapons charge with a picture of Garland.
Waiting for NBC News explanation for confusing Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland with accused murderer pic.twitter.com/nzDMxJpL65— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) April 27, 2016
For what it’s worth, it happens to the best of us.
In non-shenanigans news, Garland had a joint meeting with Oklahoma Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe on Wednesday. The Republican duo met the nominee for almost 55 minutes, the New York Times reported. In that time, though, the topic of his nomination apparently was never discussed! “This was not some interview for a potential justice, so we didn't talk about issues and the topic never came up, quite frankly of the whole process,” Lankford said. Instead, the trio focused on Garland’s past support of the state of Oklahoma, including the work he did to help prosecute the Oklahoma City bombers. “[Garland] has tremendous memories of us and the people of Oklahoma and we have incredible gratitude of him,” Lankford said. Both Lankford and Inhofe are opposed to holding a Senate hearing on Garland’s nomination, although Inhofe supported Garland’s nomination for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1997.
It was reported this week, meanwhile, that Sen. Chuck Grassley—one of the GOP’s most vocal opponents of a Senate hearing on Garland—made some revealing comments about his motivations for the continued obstruction. In a conference call with the pro-life non-profit organization, Susan B. Anthony List, earlier this month, Grassley said, “I can’t overstate the importance of what’s at stake here… We know if another liberal is nominated to the court then even the reasonable restrictions on abortion that have been enacted into law—through the democratic process, I might say—these would be swept away.” Grassley had previously emphasized that his reasons for not giving Garland a hearing was the politicization of the court, not because he personally wanted a fifth vote to uphold abortion restrictions, which is clearly not a politicized motivation at all.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Grassley is the chair, was comparatively busier than last week—though that’s not saying much. On Tuesday, the committee held a hearing on the “need for timeliness and transparency” in providing benefits to the survivors of public safety officers who die in the line of duty. On Wednesday the committee commenced a hearing entitled, “Counterfeits and Their Impact on Consumer Health and Safety.” The committee concluded the week on Thursday with a bipartisan news conference announcing new provisions and cosponsors to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which aims to reduce minimum federal sentences for drug and gun violations and to make those sentences retroactive. Next week on the agenda: More stuff that isn’t a hearing for Merrick Garland.
“Never Trump” Candidate Marco Rubio Says Trump Should Maybe Be the Republican Nominee
Remember Marco Rubio? Florida guy, good smile, willing to say just about anything in a tone of passionate conviction even if it completely contradicted something he'd said previously? You may recall that his campaign flamed out shortly after he called Donald Trump a con man, announced that Trump "will never be the nominee of the party of Lincoln and Reagan," implied Trump had an unusually small penis, and began selling "Never Trump" memorabilia on his website.
Wellllll, ol' Marco has been giving it some thought and it sounds like his new opinion is that Trump will, and perhaps even should, be the nominee of party of Lincoln, Reagan, and Strom Thurmond. On Friday, the Palm Beach Post says, Rubio told reporters that Trump's "performance has improved significantly" recently, and last week he said that Trump seemed likely to reach a 1,237-delegate first-ballot majority—then told a radio host that Trump would have a "valid" argument to be the nominee even if he didn't quite make it to that number:
I do think it's valid to argue to delegates, 'Look, let’s not divide the party. You have someone here who has all these votes, very close to get 1,237, let’s not ignore the will of the people or they’re going to be angry.' And delegates may decide on that reason that they decide to vote for Donald Trump.
Rubio also reiterated his previous stance that he'll support the Republican candidate regardless of who it ends up being. He did not comment on whether he has revised his beliefs about the size of Trump's penis.
This Week’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings
Hello and welcome to the final installment of Slatest’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings. After eight months of obsessively tracking the candidates’ tweets, we’re going to bring our RT watch to an end this week—but not before we take a slightly longer view of how the campaign Twitter wars have played out.
First, though, let’s take one last look at our usual scorecards. Above, you’ll find our handy interactive of the past week’s worth of candidate tweets: how many each White House hopeful sent and how often they were retweeted and favorited, along with how each fared in the 140-character fight with their political rivals on both sides of the aisle. Below, you’ll find our tried-and-true method of ranking each candidate’s single most successful tweet of the past seven days.
The ground rules for the single-tweet rankings:
- We defined a candidate’s most successful tweet as the one that received the most retweets.
- Tweets that included a direct request for a retweet were ineligible for the traditional rankings because that’s cheating. RT if you agree! (Retweet-begging tweets, though, still appear in the interactive at the top.)
- Only tweets from the preceding seven days were eligible. Since we published the weekly rankings every Friday, that meant any tweet sent in the seven days prior to when we hit the big red button at around 10 a.m. to cull all the data.
Without further ado:
1.) Donald Trump (Last week: 2)
Wow, just announced that Lyin' Ted and Kasich are going to collude in order to keep me from getting the Republican nomination. DESPERATION!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2016
2.) Bernie Sanders (1)
In 2015, McDonald's CEO saw his pay go up from $1.68 million to nearly $8 million. Yet 15 bucks an hour is too radical for his employees.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 25, 2016
3.) Hillary Clinton (3)
4.) Ted Cruz (4)
Tell me again who will stand up to Washington? Trump, who's Boehner's "texting and golfing buddy," or Carly & me? https://t.co/qvYPSaTEV7— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) April 28, 2016
5.) John Kasich (5)
How John Kasich and Donald Trump discuss foreign affairs ... without a teleprompter. pic.twitter.com/ldDmXQ5gBN— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) April 27, 2016
Fittingly, Trump takes the top spot in both our overall and individual rankings this week. The GOP front-runner proved to be a force on social media early in the campaign, and never let up. When we started the rankings way back in August, Trump actually had 200,000 or so fewer followers than Clinton did. Fast-forward to today, though, and he has roughly 1.75 million more than his likely general election opponent (and nearly 6 million more than Sanders). Trump saw his total follower count nearly double over that same stretch, from slightly fewer than 4 million to 7.83 million as of Friday.
Why does that matter? Trump has had more success than any other candidate bending the news cycle to his will, and Twitter was often his preferred tool of choice. The celebrity billionaire was able to command the media’s attention with a single tweet—and even the occasional retweet. While his rivals often appeared to focus-group and workshop even the most basic of social media statements, Trump seemed to let his tweets fly without so much as a second thought. His brand of belligerent bluster and unapologetic self-promotion proved particularly well-suited to being delivered in 140-character bursts.
For an idea of just how much Trump dominated his rivals on Twitter, here is a graph looking back at the candidates’ RT successes each week. (Note: We stopped tracking a candidate once they dropped out of the race, so when you see someone disappear completely at a certain point, that’s why.) Trump—and we didn’t actually plan this, I swear!—is all that bright orange in the middle of the graph. (This is a stacked area chart, not a line chart, so it's the width of the shaded region—not the position of the line—that represents the number of RTs. The uppermost line in the chart corresponds to the total number of RTs for all candidates, which peaked in March.)
And here’s what those same numbers look like as a proportional share of each week's total. (Same rules as above. It’s the width of the shaded regions that show each candidate's proportional take of RTs.)
As you can see, most weeks Trump accounted for roughly as many retweets as all of his rivals did combined. On Twitter as on the trail, then, there was Trump and there was everyone else.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Thinks Donald Trump is Perfect! (He Also Endorses Ted Cruz.)
It’s hard to think of a better encapsulation of #NeverTrump futility at this point than Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s presidential endorsement Friday. Sure, he endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz. But only after dishing out some effusive praise about the awesomeness that is Donald Trump. It was a pyrrhic endorsement that revealed a party establishment accepting its future.
Pence was in an interesting position. The conservative movement, of which Pence is a member, believes Cruz is its finest presidential vessel since Ronald Reagan. A loss in Indiana would nearly eliminate Cruz’s already-slim chances of keeping Trump below a first-ballot majority of delegates. Pence’s fellow conservative governors, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, were urging him to do the right thing. But unlike, say, Scott Walker, Pence is up for re-election this year. He has noticed that there are many Trump supporters in his state. If the polls are true, these Trump supporters even represent a slight plurality of Republican primary voters in Indiana! For Pence to do what Walker did—run around the state with Cruz trashing Trump at every turn in a critical state with all eyes watching—would risk turning off part of the base.
So Pence finally said, OK, sure, why not, I'll endorse Cruz. But you better not think I'll do it enthusiastically, OK?
“I like and respect all three of the Republican candidates in the field,” Pence said. “I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with a lack of progress in Washington, D.C.”
OK, OK. Ready to endorse Cruz now?
“I am also particularly grateful that Donald Trump has taken a strong stand for Hoosier jobs when we saw jobs of the Carrier company abruptly announce leaving Indiana. Not for another state, but for Mexico. I’m grateful. I’m grateful for his voice in the national debate.”
Just get it out already.
“I’ve come to my decision about who I’m supporting, and I’m not against anybody.”
“But I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary.”
Finally! I’m exhausted.
It makes sense for vulnerable Republicans in blue states to run from Trump. Vulnerable Republicans in redder states like Indiana just need to do whatever it takes to get their bases out. And so we see mush like this.
One Lone Weasel Grinds the World’s Most Powerful Particle Collider to a Halt
The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is humanity's most powerful scientific instrument. It cost $7 billion to build, comprises a 17-mile track wherein protons are smashed together at near-light speeds, and will soon be used to probe the elusive Higgs boson particle in an effort to help us better understand the physical nature of our universe. A weasel is a tiny, inquisitive-looking mammal that often weighs less than a pound. And yet Thursday night, it was a weasel that triumphed over the Large Hadron Collider.
In a David-versus-Goliath–esque feat, the devious creature gnawed through a power cable, electrocuted itself, and managed to temporarily take the collider down with it, reports NPR.
(The collider should be up and running by mid-May.)
Do weasels hate scientific inquiry? It would appear so. These killing machines would even kill machines to make their point known, it seems. This unprovoked suicide attack was clearly a warning to all humans of the dire consequences that await them should they continue down this precarious path of interrogating the universe's mysteries.
Worse, weasels may be part of a larger alliance of animals banded together against technology, the scope of which we cannot yet fathom. “There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems,” according to NPR. The bird’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
A motive has not been ascertained in this latest attack, but it’s suspected that weaselkind may be retaliating after years of having their species unfairly employed as synonym for a distrustful scoundrel. In that case, watch out: The rat bastards may be next.
Fox News National Security “Expert” Pleads Guilty to Being a Complete Fraud
In October 2015, a frequent Fox News guest named Wayne Simmons was charged with fraud for misrepresenting himself as a former CIA operative and using this fake biography to try to obtain work as a defense contractor. (Simmons, who appeared on Fox at least 76 times, also identified himself as a national-security veteran on TV, as you can see above.) Simmons subsequently argued in a highly entertaining New York Times Magazine article that the reason there's no record of his work for the CIA is that it had simply been too top-secret to document. The Times mag article presented a number of reasons to be skeptical of this claim, and it now appears that Simmons has given up the fight, at least legally, and pleaded guilty to a number of crimes. From a Department of Justice press release:
“Wayne Simmons is a convicted felon with no military or intelligence experience,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Simmons admitted he attempted to con his way into a position where he would have been called on to give real intelligence advice in a war zone."
In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Simmons admitted he defrauded the government in 2008 when he obtained work as a team leader in the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Systems program, and again in 2010 when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence advisor on the International Security Assistance Force’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team. Simmons admitted making false statements about his financial and criminal history, and admitted that there are no records or any other evidence that he was ever employed by or worked with the CIA, or ever applied for or was granted a security clearance by that agency.
Simmons also pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and a fraud charge related to a real estate scheme. His sentence will be determined by a judge.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto, on whose show Simmons often appeared, apologized for failing to more carefully research Simmons' background after his October arrest.
Here is my favorite Wayne Simmons Fox quote; it's about how we could defeat ISIS in a single week if we put Wayne Simmons in charge of planning "sorties."
Sadly, we have the—we have the capability. We could end this in a week. And that's not an exaggeration. That's not hyperbole.
We could run a number of sorties, thousands of sorties, locate, identify and absolutely decimate ISIS, ISIL, I.S., whatever you want to call them. They would all be dead.