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May 29 2015 3:40 PM

Title IX Investigation Opened Against Female Northwestern Professor Over Column, Tweet

In February, Northwestern film professor and liberal cultural critic (and occasional Slate contributor) Laura Kipnis wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe." Kipnis' piece was critical of what she called the "layers of prohibition and sexual terror" that have inspired campus rules prohibiting romantic relationships between professors and students. Wrote Kipnis:

It’s the fiction of the all-powerful professor embedded in the new campus codes that appalls me. And the kowtowing to the fiction—kowtowing wrapped in a vaguely feminist air of rectitude. If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.
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Later in the piece, she argued that students "so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life" will struggle to deal with the problems and conflicts of the real world.

On Friday, Kipnis published another piece in the Chronicle, revealing that, in a twist that's ironic on more than one level, she is now the subject of an investigation into graduate student complaints that her earlier column and a subsequent tweet violated Title IX, the law that prohibits sex descrimination in education. Her piece, in addition to pointing out the absurdity of being charged with discriminatory behavior because of an essay, alleges an investigatory process that's ridiculously opaque for the accused:

I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators. Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term "kangaroo court" came to mind. I wrote to ask for the charges in writing. The coordinator wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful questions.

One of Kipnis' accusers was alluded to, though not by name and seemingly without rancor or judgment, in Kipnis' first piece. This accuser apparently said Kipnis' allusion to her was "retaliatory" and believes the above-linked tweet refers to her, which Kipnis says is not the case. The other accuser was not mentioned at all in Kipnis' essay but is said to have brought charges "on behalf" of the university and two individuals who were referred to anonymously in the first piece.

Kipnis was not allowed to have an attorney present during her interview with Title IX investigators, she writes, but she was allowed to bring along another faculty member as a "support person" provided that the person she brought did not speak. That support person later discussed Kipnis' situation at a "Faculty Senate" meeting—and has subsequently been accused of, yes, committing a Title IX violation.

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May 29 2015 2:56 PM

Dennis Hastert Allegedly Paid to Conceal “Sexual Misconduct” With Student

Update, 4:30 p.m.: NBC News reports via a federal law enforcement official that Hastert's payments were made to a man with whom Hastert had "a sexual relationship" when the man attended the high school where Hastert taught from 1965 to 1981.

Original post, 2:56 p.m.: The million-dollar payment that led to former House speaker Dennis Hastert's indictment was made to conceal sexual abuse Hastert allegedly committed during his time as a high school teacher and coach, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hastert was charged Thursday with breaking financial laws and lying to the FBI in the course of making payments to a person identified as "Individual A" in an indictment. The LAT, citing "two federal law enforcement officials," says Individual A is an alleged abuse victim:

One of the officials, who would not speak publicly about the federal charges in Chicago, said “Individual A,” as the person is described in Thursday’s federal indictment, was a man and that the alleged misconduct was unrelated to Hastert’s tenure in Congress. The actions date to Hastert’s time as a Yorkville, Ill., high school wrestling coach and teacher, the official said ... “It was sex,’’ the source said. The other official confirmed that the misconduct involved sexual abuse.
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In a November 2014 C-SPAN clip widely circulated Friday, a caller identifying himself as "Bruce" asks Hastert in an uneven voice if Hastert remembers him "from Yorkville" before hanging up. The indictment against Hastert says he began paying Individual A in 2010.

May 29 2015 2:56 PM

California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal

California’s current megadrought hit a shocking new low this week: On Thursday, the state’s snowpack officially ran out.

At least some measurable snowpack in the Sierra mountains usually lasts all summer. But this year, its early demise means that runoff from the mountains—which usually makes up the bulk of surface water for farms and cities during the long summer dry season—will be essentially non-existent. To be clear: there’s still a bit of snow left, and some water will be released from reservoirs (which are themselves dangerously low), but this is essentially a worst-case scenario when it comes to California’s fragile water supply.

zero_percent_CAsnowpack
This week's automated survey found California's statewide snowpack had officially run out.

California Department of Water Resources

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The state knew this was coming and has been working to help soften the blow—but they’re fighting a losing battle. Bottom line: 2014 was the state’s hottest year in history, and 2015 is on pace to break that record. It’s been too warm for snow. Back in April, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions for urban areas based mostly on the abysmal snowpack. In recent days, the state’s conservation efforts have turned to farmers—who use about 80 percent of California’s water.

With a burgeoning El Niño on the way, there’s reason to believe the rains could return soon—but not before October or November. The state’s now mired in such a deep water deficit that even a Texas-sized flood may not totally eliminate the drought.

Welcome to climate change, everyone.

May 29 2015 2:04 PM

Sepp Blatter Re-Elected, but at What Cost to FIFA?   

It was a lot closer than we thought it would be a week ago, but in the end the result was as expected: four more years of Sepp Blatter.

In the first round of voting in FIFA’s presidential election in Zurich today, incumbent Sepp Blatter, needing a two-thirds majority to avoid a second round of voting and secure his fifth term, came out ahead of Jordanian Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein 133–73, but still seven votes short of the supermajority. The second round required just a simple majority and Ali withdrew, mercifully sparing us all another long and pointless vote.

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The voting was done by secret ballot, but we know a bit about which candidate members were planning to support. UEFA, Europe’s 54-member soccer federation, was backing Prince Ali, though a few members—Russia, of course, and most likely Spain—broke ranks to support Blatter. The U.S. was on Team Ali, as were Canada and Australia. There were also reports on the day of voting that South America’s 10-member federation CONMEBOL was switching its support to Ali.

But ultimately, that wasn’t enough to overcome Blatter’s overwhelming support in Africa, Asia—despite the fact that Ali is FIFA’s vice president for the region—Central America, and the Caribbean. (The head of the Dominican Republic’s football association compared the FIFA head to Jesus, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill at a meeting last month.) As thoroughly corrupted as Blatter’s FIFA appears to, well, everyone, he’s clearly been good to many of the members.

Blatter was characteristically confident before the vote, telling the delegates in his statement, “You know me already, I don’t need to introduce myself to you. You know who you’re dealing with. I also know I can count on you. We need to recover our good name. We will start tomorrow morning with this goal in mind.”

So what happens now? Swiss authorities have informed Blatter that he could face questioning within weeks as part of its inquiry into vote-rigging in the awarding of World Cups to Russia and Qatar. And U.S. authorities will now be submitting formal extradition requests for most of the officials arrested earlier this week. The fallout of the scandal is also now spreading to Brazil, where the police and congress have now launched inquiries into money laundering and tax evasion by soccer officials. The former president of the Brazilian football federation was among those arrested and his successor fled Switzerland before today’s vote, apparently panicked by today’s vote.

The organization itself seems at risk of imploding. UEFA head Michel Platini, who had called on Blatter to resign, said this morning that his members, which include soccer powerhouses like Germany and Spain, would consider pulling out of FIFA if Blatter were re-elected. The head of the England Football Association, Greg Dyke, also said that the country would consider boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia if Blatter stays and would consult with other UEFA members about doing the same. 

Blatter may have survived the vote—and it would be a mistake to underestimate his long-term survival skills—but the troubles seem likely to continue for the world’s most popular sport. 

May 29 2015 12:26 PM

Dennis Hastert’s Past May Have Brought Him Down in More Than One Way

Two updates on Thursday's shocking indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert for activity related to an alleged $3.5 million payment that Hastert agreed to make to "conceal prior misconduct":

1. C-SPAN has flagged and reposted a clip from a November 2014 Hastert appearance in which a caller identified as "Bruce" says, "Remember me from Yorkville?" and laughs unnervingly before hanging up. Hastert was a teacher in Yorkville, Illinois, from 1965 until 1981, and the indictment against him says that the individual who was to receive the $3.5 million is from Yorkville and has known Hastert for most of his or her life.

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"Individal A" from the indictment, of course, may not be "Bruce" from C-SPAN. The indictment says "Individual A" was in regular contact with Hastert beginning in 2010.

2. The Huffington Post's Daniel Marans observes that the Patriot Act, which Hastert voted for and helped guide through Congress, may have helped ensnare him.

As the IRS notes, “the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 increased the scope” of cash reporting laws “to help trace funds used for terrorism.” The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which was amended by the Patriot Act, had already required banks to report suspicious transactions.
The banks that Hastert frequented, the indictment states, were required to “prepare and file with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network a Currency Transaction Report (Form 104) for any transaction or series of transactions involving currency of more than $10,000.” From 2010 to 2012, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from multiple bank accounts in order to make the hush money payments, according to the indictment. One or more of the banks flagged the transactions as suspicious.

The indictment itself is mum on the exact means by which the FBI and IRS found out about Hastert's transactions, so it's not certain that provisions in the Patriot Act specifically caused his downfall (vis a vis earlier laws regarding suspicious withdrawls). But Sections 351 and 352 of the Patriot Act mandate and facilitate the kind of bank anti-money laundering programs that could have snared Hastert, while Section 361 amplifies the powers and obligations of the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to track and investigate suspicious activity.

In any case, passing the Patriot Act certainly didn't help Dennis Hastert, and it's not the only way his past seems to be catching up with him.

Correction, May 29, 2015: This post originally misstated that Dennis Hastert had made a $3.5 million payment to "Individual A." In fact, Hastert is alleged to have agreed to pay Individual A $3.5 million and to have withdrawn $1.7 million from various bank accounts between 2010 and 2014 in order to fulfill that agreement.

May 29 2015 11:33 AM

After a Dramatic Morning, FIFA Votes to Keep Israel as a Member 

If not for the U.S. Justice Department’s surprise intervention earlier this week, the biggest story at today’s FIFA World Congress Meeting would probably have been the Palestinian Football Association’s motion to have Israel suspended from the organization. In the end, the Palestinian withdrew their proposal at the last moment and 90 percent of FIFA members voted for a compromise that allows Israel to stay. 

The original motion was part of the recent Palestinian campaign to “internationalize the struggle” by bringing grievances against Israel into international forums. This has also included the ongoing campaign to seek recognition at the United Nations and joining the International Criminal Court to push for an investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes.

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In the case of FIFA, the Palestinians complained of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian teams, the detention a of Palestinian players and officials at checkpoints, the notorious racism of fans of the Israeli team Beitar Jerusalem, and the presence of teams from Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. The movement took on extra symbolic weight after last year’s Gaza war, as Palestinian player Iyad Abu Gharqoud argued in the New York Times this week. In July, eight soccer fans who had gathered to watch the World Cup in a café were killed by an Israeli missile and a few days later, a group of boys playing the game were killed by an airstrike on a Gaza beach.

Israeli football authorities counter that they have no control over military checkpoints and point out that there are Arab players on Israel’s national team. As for racist fans, if FIFA started suspending members for that, it would have to kick out most of Europe.

The Palestinian complaints had been on the FIFA agenda in 2013 and 2014, but this year, the PFA seemed determined to press for a vote on the issue, citing the precedents of apartheid-era South Africa and Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, both of which were suspended from the organization. Embattled FIFA President Sepp Blatter was strongly opposed to expelling Israel and had been campaigning against the move, but after the events earlier this week, Israeli soccer officials feared he would sell them out in order to secure the support of Middle Eastern countries against his rival, Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in earlier this morning saying that the proposed vote “is not because of something we did or didn’t do” but “stems from the opposition to our right to our own state.” He said expelling Israel would lead to the organization’s collapse.

This morning’s proceedings were dramatic. In addition to a probably unrelated bomb threat that caused a brief evacuation, pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted the meeting waving red cards at Blatter. Shortly before the vote was planned to take place, PFA chief Jibril Rajoub announced he was withdrawing his proposal, giving an emotional speech saying he looks  “forward to the day in which Palestinians, like many others, are enjoying the benefits of the game.” Rajoub said he had received threats and “might be dead in a year” but also thanked those who lobbied him to withdraw his motion, singling out German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The members then voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amended version of the proposal that allowed Israel to stay but called for the creation of a committee to investigate issue including the movement of players and the settler teams.  The vote was followed by what sounds like an extremely uncomfortable handshake between Rajoub and Israeli Football Association chief Ofer Eini.

In addition to all the lobbying, it seems as if the corruption scandal enveloping FIFA may have taken some of the wind out of the Palestinian campaign. With estimates that up to 4,000 workers will die in preparation for the 2022 Word Cup, it’s hard to take FIFA too seriously as an arbiter of morality and human rights, and the sight of its senior officials being led away in handcuffs didn’t exactly help its credibility. 

May 29 2015 10:16 AM

ISIS Claims Another Deadly Bomb Attack Against Shiites in Saudi Arabia

A week after at least 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a Shiite mosque bombing on the east coast of Saudi Arabia that ISIS took credit for, the group claimed responsibility Friday for a similar attack in the same region that killed at least four. From Reuters:

The claim for Friday's bombing, which was posted on a Facebook page used by the extremist group, said a "soldier of the caliphate" identified as Abu Jandal al-Jazrawi, blew himself up among "an evil gathering of those filth in front of one of their shrines in Dammam."
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ISIS is a Sunni group, and Shiites are already an exposed minority in Saudi Arabia, as Slate's Joshua Keating wrote last week:

Shiites are largely excluded from positions in the authoritarian state’s political system and suffer what human rights groups call “systematic discrimination” in the education and justice systems. They also rarely receive permission to build their own mosques. Activists say the government also permits anti-Shiite hate speech from prominent religious figures while jailing Shiites who criticize it.

Friday's attack apparently could have been much more deadly than it was; reports indicate that the individual carrying the bomb detonated it in the mosque's parking lot, away from the congregation inside, after being approached by guards.

ISIS "acknowledges it is trying to stir sectarian confrontation as a way of hastening the overthrow of the ruling Al Saud family," the Guardian writes.

May 28 2015 10:18 PM

Volcano Erupts in Japan

A volcano erupted on a small island in southern Japan on Friday morning (local time) spewing forcing an evacuation of the island of roughly 140. It was the second eruption at Mount Shindake in the last year; before the pair of recent eruptions the last eruption was in 1980.  There are no reports of injuries.

May 28 2015 8:42 PM

Nebraska Gov. Veto Overridden Again; Last State to Allow Undocumented Kids Driver’s Licenses

It’s been a tough week for Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. First, on Wednesday, Ricketts lost a high profile standoff with the state legislature on the death penalty. Ricketts vetoed a Statehouse-backed ban on the death penalty only to have his veto overridden and the practice outlawed. Ricketts, however, was undeterred and vetoed a bill that would have allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to get state-issued driver’s licenses. On Thursday, the Nebraska Statehouse overruled the governor’s veto for the second time in two days.

The 34-to-10 vote in favor of overriding Rickett’s veto made Nebraska the final state in the country to allow children who are U.S. residents and have parents who are undocumented to get driver’s licenses. “Ricketts has said that those who arrived in the country illegally shouldn't receive privileges intended for legal residents and said the bill would expand privileges to individuals beyond the youth covered under the program,” the Associated Press reports. “But senators who supported the bill argued the youth are active contributors to the state’s economy and should not be penalized for their parents’ actions.”

May 28 2015 6:53 PM

Can the King of Jordan’s Little Brother Save Soccer?

Many soccer fans are hoping tonight that an actual prince will come to their rescue tomorrow. Right now, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, younger brother of King Abdullah II of Jordan, is the only man standing between the world’s most popular sport and another four years of Sepp Blatter.

Blatter was supposed to cruise to his fifth term in Friday’s vote by FIFA’s 209 members, but with the arrests of several senior officials Wednesday and the promise of more criminal investigations—perhaps implicating Blatter himself—things have gotten a little more interesting. As it happens, the only man running against Blatter is Prince Ali. Several other candidates, including retired Portuguese star Luis Figo, have dropped out to support Ali. The prince also has the backing of several regional bodies, such as Europe’s powerful federation UEFA. Blatter is still expected to win: He has heavy backing among the African and Asian members, but given how his week has been going, it’s no longer a foregone conclusion.

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So who is the prince who wants to save the world’s most popular support? The 40-year-old Ali, the third son of Jordan’s late King Hussein, has had the meteoric rise that king’s sons get to have.  He became the head of the Jordan Football Association at age 24—“the same age as most of the players,” he noted—and became the youngest member of FIFA’s executive committee in 2011. He was one of the founders of the West Asian Football Federation, and his best-known initiative was getting FIFA to lift a ban on female players wearing hijabs. He’s also an officer in the Jordanian military, and he accompanied his brother to meet with the family of Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot tortured and killed by ISIS this year.

Unlike Blatter, Ali certainly seems to be able to charm the media. According to a fawning Reuters profile from January, the prince is “one of the few FIFA executive committee members who might slip into a pair of jeans, pull on a leather jacket and go and watch his favorites Arsenal in London or eat at a modest restaurant and feel completely at home.”

As for how he would run FIFA, Ali certainly says all the right things. Earlier this week, he went public after claiming his election team had been approached by someone promising to deliver votes and deliver illegally obtained information about Blatter’s finances. He says he rejected the “criminal approach.” In March, he told the New York Times that he wants to increase the amount of revenue returned to countries for athletic development, rather than lining the organization’s own coffers. He has also promised to make the still-confidential internal report into the awarding of the Word Cups to Qatar in Russia to be made public. Criticizing Blatter’s autocratic style, he has vowed to serve only one term and to delegate more of the office’s responsibilities, saying, “We want to get to a day when people don’t even know who the president of FIFA is.”

This all sounds great, even if some skepticism is warranted about whether Ali could deliver. But after 16 years of Blatter, most soccer fans, if not the people who will actually be voting tomorrow, would probably like to give him a shot. 

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