The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Feb. 26 2015 6:22 PM

Obama and Biden Skipping AIPAC Ahead of Netanyahu Speech

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will not attend this year's policy conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which begins on Sunday. The Associated Press reports that the Obama administration will instead send National Security Adviser Susan Rice and United Nations Representative Samantha Power.

The decision comes in advance of Tuesday's speech to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The AP reports that dispatching Rice and Power to AIPAC could be seen as a muted response from a White House irked by Netanyahu's appearance; officials had previously floated the idea of sending only sub-cabinet representatives to address the gathering of Israel supporters.

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Rice told Charlie Rose this week that Netanyahu's appearance, during which he is expected to continue recent criticism of Obama's efforts to negotiate an agreement on Iran's nuclear program, could harm "the fabric of the relationship" between the nations  by "inject[ing] a degree of partisanship." Netanyahu, who is speaking at the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, turned down a request to meet with Democratic senators during his visit.

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Feb. 26 2015 5:36 PM

Judge Overturns Adrian Peterson’s Suspension

U.S. District Judge David S. Doty vacated the NFL's suspension of Adrian Peterson on Thursday, probably ensuring that the Minnesota Vikings player will soon return to the field. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Peterson in November after a grand jury indicted him for injuring his child. A police report provides the details:

Peterson’s son had shoved another of his children off a motorbike video game. In response, Peterson snatched a tree branch, picked off the leaves, and whipped his son on the legs, ankles, back, buttocks, and scrotum. According to the son, Peterson shoved leaves in his mouth during the whipping; Peterson’s son also said this kind of beating had occurred before.
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Peterson ultimately pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years of community supervision—a predictably lenient punishment, given the fact that Peterson's conduct was arguably legal under Texas law. Still, Goodell decided to suspend Peterson until at least April 15, 2015, a decision an arbitrator quickly upheld. Goodell's authority to suspend Peterson, however, derived from new rules that were applied retroactively to Peterson's conduct, rendering the punishment "fundamentally unfair" and thus invalid, according to Doty

The NFL is expected to appeal Doty's ruling and can seek an injunction to keep Peterson off the field while it contemplates its next move. Given how profoundly the NFL botched this entire undertaking, however, it seems unlikely that Peterson's suspension will be reinstated on appeal.

Feb. 26 2015 5:06 PM

Did This Russian Oligarch Come Up With Putin’s Ukraine Strategy?

On Wednesday the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a memo reportedly sent to the Kremlin in early February 2014, shortly before the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, advising a strategy for taking advantage of the resulting chaos for Russia’s benefit. The steps outlined in the memo, reportedly sent from the offices of the politically influential Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, are strikingly similar to the strategy Russia has, in fact, pursued.

Written at a time when the Russian government was still supporting Yanukovych, the memo predicts the downfall of the leader it describes as having “low moral qualities.” It advises the Russian government to take advantage of the “centrifugal forces” tearing Ukraine apart to eventually facilitate the eventual annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine into Russia. It suggests Russia support a “federal” structure for Ukraine, be “pro-Russian drift,” and mount a PR campaign to build enthusiasm in the Russian public for absorbing the regions. 

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Novaya Gazeta is well-known for its critical investigations of Russian politics. (Anna Politkovskaya, the muckraking reporter whose 2006 murder caused international outrage, worked for the paper.) The paper’s editor tells Anna Nemtsova of the Daily Beast that it received the memo from a trusted Kremlin insider who has a “strong sense” that President Vladimir Putin reviewed the document in February 2014. Spokespeople for Malofeev, whom I interviewed in Moscow in October, deny that the memo came from his office, but the report is going to add to the intrigue and mystery surrounding the ultrareligious investor and philanthropist.

Malofeev, who made his money in private equity and is a leading funder of Orthodox Christian and social conservative causes in Russia, is thought to be close to Putin’s inner circle. He’s currently under EU sanctions for supporting providing military support to the armed separatists, and some of the senior rebel leaders are his former employees. When I spoke with him, he denied the charges, saying that his foundation was providing “only food, medicine, and other things that could be used only for humanitarian purposes.”

In January 2014, before the memo was allegedly sent, Malofeev paid a highly publicized visit to Crimea while on tour with a collection of Orthodox icons. He says the trip wasn’t planned and his plane was diverted by weather. He also told me it was a mistake to read political motivations into his visit: “We are all Orthodox. There is nothing political about that.” Of course, for someone with Malofeev’s politics, the line between church and state is pretty thin.

Since the annexation of Crimea, he has also announced plans to partner with a French developer to build a “Tsargrad” theme park in Crimea presenting a family-friendly vision of Russian history. (Malofeev supports the eventual restoration of the Russian monarchy.)

Still, even assuming it’s genuine, I think it would be a mistake to read too much significance into the memo. Crimea’s status had been a sore spot in Russian politics for years, and I doubt Putin needed Malofeev to tell him that Ukraine’s linguistic and political divisions could be exploited. And I still think it’s a mistake to assume that Putin had his entire Ukraine strategy planned out in advance. Many of Malofeev’s domestic priorities—fierce opposition to gay rights, an emphasis on raising Russia’s birthrate, promoting religion and nationalism through the media—align pretty closely with Putin’s. It wouldn’t be a shock to learn they had similar thoughts about how to react to the chaos next door. 

Feb. 26 2015 4:42 PM

Ben Carson Features Fake Alexis de Tocqueville Quote in CPAC Leaflet

Ben Carson’s supporters are distributing a leaflet on him at CPAC that includes a quote falsely attributed to the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville.

The booklet, called “Ben Carson On the Issues in His Own Words,” was printed by the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee. It includes excerpts from Carson’s columns and books that detail his stances on different issues, including abortion (against), political correctness (against), and traditional moral values (for). Under the heading “American exceptionalism,” the booklet has an excerpt from an April 2014 Washington Times column by Carson. In the column, Carson writes that Tocqueville “was impressed by the fiery sermons that emphasized the word of God and not the social mores of the day.”

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“He concluded his American analysis by saying, ‘America is great, because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great,’” Carson wrote.

Too bad Tocqueville never said that. In a 1995 piece for the Weekly Standard, John Pitney Jr. detailed the origins of the fake quote, which first showed up in a 1941 book without any documentation of its origin. At least Carson’s error is Reaganesque; the former president used it multiple times, falsely attributing it to the Frenchman. Pitney notes that Bill Clinton also trotted out the fake quote in 1994.

“We could make a nasty crack about politicians who cannot tell Alexis de Tocqueville from Maurice Chevalier, but that would be irrelevant since they seldom write their own material anyway,” Pitney wrote.

Other media outlets seem to have noticed Carson’s flub. His column is syndicated, and National Review republished it as saying, “He is often said to have observed” rather than “he concluded his American analysis by saying.”

Feb. 26 2015 4:05 PM

Internet, Divided Over Net Neutrality, Unites Over Llamas

Update, 5:05 p.m.: Slate producer Anne Marie Llindemann brings us this essentiall musicall highllight reell of the llamas' wholle ordeall. Watch above. 

Original post: Two llamas—let's call them Thellma and Llouise—spent Thursday afternoon frustrating Arizona pollice and dellighting the Internet by going on an impromptu run that was (thankfulllly) captured on video by llocal TV reporters. (See bellow!) The two woolllly creatures were on the llam for roughlly an hour before pollice were ablle to eventualllly corrall them.

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The chase reportedlly began in Sun City and eventualllly crossed into neighboring Sun City West, both of which are retirement communities outside of Phoenix. Here's the Arizona Republic with the pllay-by-pllay:

The white llama, often running ahead of its smaller dark companion, sprinted into oncoming traffic as a posse member approached with his arms outstretched. Vehicles attempted to block the animals, but were unable to trap the couple. The llamas would often stop in shade to take rests as their chasers tried to track them down. But, those relaxed moments didn't last long after they were separated, desperate to reunite.
When the two inexplicably found each other again, the black llama was lassoed in by the posse, leaving the white llama to roam the streets alone. Minutes after its companion was apprehended, a posse member in the bed of a pickup truck reigned in the white llama with a lasso near Grand and 99th avenues.

Exactlly where the llamas escaped from is currentlly a mystery. 

Feb. 26 2015 3:46 PM

Argentine Judge Rules That Criminal Investigation Into the President Is Unwarranted

Judge Daniel Rafecas of Argentina dismissed a criminal complaint against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Thursday, the latest—though likely not the last—development in an ongoing legal saga that has captivated the country. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman brought the initial allegations, which claimed that Kirchner had helped to shield Iranian officials involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people. But Nisman's colleagues were forced to carry on Nisman's work after the prosecutor was found dead of a shotgun wound in his apartment, with no witnesses, no suicide note, and no clear motivation.

Nisman's death spurred rumors of a government conspiracy to silence the prosecutor, who uncovered phone transcripts said to reveal a secret deal between Iran and Argentina. According to Nisman's allegations, Kirchner's administration helped keep Iran's involvement in the bombing secret in exchange for low-cost oil. Kirchner herself has proposed an alternative conspiracy: She believes Nisman was assassinated by rogue spies, and has moved to dissolve the country's intelligence service. (At other points, Kirchner has also implied that Nisman's aide killed him, linking the aide to a media group critical of her government.)

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Prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will appeal Thursday's ruling.

Feb. 26 2015 1:44 PM

Cherry Factory Owner Commits Suicide After Getting Caught Running Marijuana Business

On Tuesday morning, investigators arrived at Dell's maraschino cherry factory in Brooklyn, New York to investigate reports that workers were dumping hazardous materials into the sewer system. While searching the office of Arthur Mondella, head of Dell's and grandson of the company's founder, investigators discovered a fake wall and, catching a whiff of marijuana, asked Mondella what lay behind it. Mondella asked to be excused to use the bathroom. On his way there, he yelled to his sister to take care of his kids. He then entered the bathroom, removed the handgun he kept strapped to his ankle, and shot himself dead.

What lay behind that wall, it turns out, was marijuana: For years, Mondella had used his cherry factory as a front for a booming weed business. Investigators discovered 80 to 90 pounds of marijuana, $200,000 of cash stuffed in suitcases, and three luxury cars—all stored underground beneath the factory. Apparently, Mondella carried out his drug operation with subtlety; Joe Morrine, the owner of a neighboring business, told reporters he never witnessed a hint of illicit conduct:

Morrine said he never suspected that the warehouse might contain a possible drug operation as authorities alleged.
“It doesn’t make sense that it would be a front; I mean, they’re a legitimate business. They’ve been around for a long time,” Morrine said. “Just a normal business operating; you know, lots of forklifts moving things in and out; nice people.”
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Mondella, then, really was a true professional: Forklifts are a notoriously difficult aspect of drug production to master.

Feb. 26 2015 1:15 PM

Jeb Bush Backers Are Busing Supporters From K Street to CPAC

It sounds like Jeb Bush’s supporters are taking CPAC pretty seriously this year. Emails provided to Slate show that backers of the former Florida governor are busing supporters from downtown Washington D.C. to CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland, and organizing to get them day passes into the event.

One of the emails that went out this morning was from Fritz Brogan, a former advance man for then-President George W. Bush who (per the Washington Post) co-hosted a fundraiser for Jeb’s Right to Rise PAC earlier this month. A Bush insider confirmed to Slate that Bush’s Right to Rise PAC is helping organize the transportation.

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“We strongly recommend arriving as early as possible to get a seat,” wrote Brogan in an email sent to undisclosed recipients. “Our ‘Early Rise’ team will be there at 7:30am onward helping reserve seats- if you want to join the early team, let me know.”

Brogan wrote that there were still available seats on buses leaving from K Street and Georgetown at noon on Friday to get to the event in time for Bush’s talk.

In another email sent last week to undisclosed recipients, Brogan discussed the importance of Bush supporters saving seats for each other before his talk.

“If you are able to come early, we would love to have your help at 7:30am reserving seats for fellow supporters,” he wrote.

One long-time CPAC insider said these organized efforts impressed him, and that he didn’t know of any other potential 2016 candidates busing backers in. Perhaps that’s because no other potential candidates are worried about the regular crowd turning against them—the Washington Times reports today that some CPAC attendees are planning “to stage an informal protest when he hits the stage.”

Eliana Johnson reported at National Review that Bush won’t give a speech. Rather, she wrote that he will do a 20-minute Q&A with Fox News host Sean Hannity. Bush is slated to appear on the mainstage at 1:40 p.m. Friday and we’ll let you know how it goes.

Feb. 26 2015 12:40 PM

D.C. Shrugs Off GOP Threats, Legalizes Recreational Weed Anyway

Recreational weed is now legal in the nation's capital—despite House Republicans' best efforts to stop it.

The new law officially went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday. Congressional Republicans had hoped to block the effort but despite their last-second attempts, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser pressed forward with the new law that district voters approved last fall by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

As the Associated Press reminds us, the nation's capital is now the first place east of the Mississippi where recreational pot is legal. Recreational pot is also legal in Alaska, Colorado, and Washington state. Under the D.C. law, it is legal to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana for use at home, and to grow up to three mature plants. But, unlike in Colorado and Washington, selling the drug remains illegal in the district.

Congress has final say over D.C. laws and late last year Republicans attempted to block the initiative as part of the so-called CRomnibus bill they used to keep the federal government running. As I explained at the time, the attempted ban was inserted at the behest of a small band of anti-pot conservative hardliners led by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, and ultimately neither the White House nor Democratic leaders were willing to make fighting it a priority. That rider was controversial and hypocritical, and in the end it appears to have been moot.

Feb. 26 2015 12:19 PM

ISIS Releases Video Showing Destruction of Priceless Artifacts

On Thursday the terrorist group ISIS released a YouTube video showing the destruction of priceless artifacts in Mosul, Iraq, at the extremests' hands. Some of the artifacts, which were housed at a museum and a nearby archeological site, were nearly 2,500 years old, and served as precious records of the Parthian Empire. YouTube has since removed the video, but the Huffington Post has the details

"Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah," a bearded man tells the camera as he stands in front of the partially demolished winged-bull.
"The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices," he added, referring to groups that that left their mark on Mesopotamia for more than 5,000 years in what is now Iraq, eastern Syria and southern Turkey.
"Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations," the man in the video adds. 
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ISIS has already destroyed innumerable works of art and literature and obliterated several holy sites, including the tomb said to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah. This devastation is an integral part of the group's plan to establish a new caliphate free of all religions except ISIS's own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

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