The Slatest
Your News Companion

March 2 2015 6:31 PM

Congressman Infuriates Republicans By Asking Who's Funding Climate Skeptic Scientists

Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, wants to know whether money from the energy sector might be influencing scientists who come before Congress to deny climate change. Since asking that question, Grijalva has been accused by fellow lawmakers, and some scientists, of perpetrating a "witch hunt" that could have a "chilling effect" on scientific exploration.

Rep. Grijalva's questioning comes after a lengthy article in the New York Times last month detailed the source of research funds used by Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer who has testified in several congressional hearings to express doubt that climate change can be attributed to human activity. Soon, who is affiliated with a joint venture of Harvard and the Smithsonian, is responsible for bringing in research dollars to pay his salary and fund his projects. The Times revealed he has received more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the past decade, including at least $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (as the Times notes, part of Koch’s fortune comes from oil refining).


Grijalva sent letters last week to universities that employ some of the scientists who remain skeptical about the causes of climate change, asking about the sources of their research funds. This sparked accusations of intimidation from the other side of the aisle. Eleven Republican senators, led by James Inhofe of Oklahoma, sent a letter of their own to academic institutions, expressing concern that Grijalva was out to "silence legitimate academic and scientific inquiry."

The controversy recalls another political dustup over climate change research, when Virginia's then-attorney general, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, demanded in 2010 that the University of Virginia turn over emails and other documents related to researcher Michael Mann in an effort to show that Mann had fabricated evidence that human activity had contributed to climate change. A court later ruled that Cuccinelli lacked the authority to compel the university to turn over Mann's papers.

Politico notes that several conservative commentators now criticizing Grijalva trumpteted Cuccinelli's probe into Mann's academic work as a "thorough investigation by someone not in cahoots with the climate mob."

Video Advertisement

March 2 2015 5:56 PM

How the DHS Stalemate Ends: In Total Defeat for the GOP

Congress returned to work this week in the same position it did last week: Facing a Friday deadline to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security or watch as the federal agency partially shuts down. But while this week is shaping up to be a repeat of the same intra-party GOP showdown, there are a number of telling signs that this round is likely to have a more conclusive ending—one that will come in the form of the long-term funding bill that President Obama and his congressional allies have been demanding for weeks

First, a quick reminder of how we got here: Last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner attempted to avoid the looming partial shutdown of DHS with a three-week funding bill that would have simply ensured that Congress found itself right back in the middle of this same immigration fight three weeks down the road. Boehner’s bid, however, unexpectedly and embarrassingly failed when he couldn’t wrangle the support of enough of his party’s rank-and-file, a solid chunk of which are refusing to fund the department unless President Obama abandons his high-profile immigration reforms. Democrats, who have demanded a long-term deal, were in no mood to help Boehner, and the measure failed 203 to 224. Then, with the midnight funding deadline fast approaching, Boehner pushed through a one-week funding bill, avoiding the shutdown but prolonging the showdown.

But here’s why this week’s drama might not end with a similar cliffhanger: Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass the one-week bill without the help of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. All but 12 Democrats voted against the original three-week bill—yet hours later all but five voted for the one-week bill. Why the reversal? What did Democrats have to gain?

March 2 2015 4:51 PM

Can You Spot the Lewinsky Reference Hidden in Bill Clinton’s Official Portrait?

Look closely at the above portrait of Bill Clinton. Specifically, look between the fireplace and the plant, exactly where Bill Clinton’s hand is pointing and Hillary Clinton’s gaze is staring. What you should see is the shadow of a dress, not white and gold, but just plain blue. The artist behind Bill Clinton’s National Portrait Gallery painting says he snuck a reference to Monica Lewinsky’s infamous stained blue dress into the former president’s official portrait.

The painter, Nelson Shanks, told the Philadelphia Daily News that he intentionally placed a shadow from a blue dress that was meant to represent Lewinsky’s into the painting. More from the Philadelphia Daily News:

He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.
If you look at the left-hand side of it there's a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.

Shanks also said that the “Clintons hate the portrait” and have put a lot of pressure on the National Portrait Gallery to have it removed, but a spokeswoman from the museum denied the claim.

March 2 2015 3:13 PM

Report: Coach K Knew about Sexual Assault Allegations for Year Before Dismissing Player

Duke University officials, including legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, were reportedly aware of multiple sexual assault allegations against guard Rasheed Sulaimon for nearly a year before dismissing him from the team in January, the Duke Chronicle reported Monday.

Two female students alleged at separate student-led diversity retreats during the 2013–14 school year that Sulaimon had assaulted them, but both students decided not to pursue criminal or disciplinary charges against Sulaimon, partly out of fear of a backlash by Duke fans, the Chronicle reports.


A former team affiliate told the newspaper that Duke’s team psychologist, two assistant coaches, associate head coach Jeff Capel, and Krzyzewski were informed of the allegations last March. The affiliate, who was granted anonymity by the Chronicle, said that athletic department officials and at least one dean were also made aware of the charges.

“Nothing happened after months and months of talking about [the sexual assault allegations]," the anonymous affiliate told the Chronicle. "The University administration knew. "

Even when students don’t file complaints, universities are required by Title IX to investigate allegations of sexual assault. The school said that it takes these steps when necessary, but declined to comment on the individual case of Sulaimon.

“Duke takes immediate action when a student reports allegations of sexual misconduct or other violations of the student conduct code,” the university said in a statement to the newspaper.

A week before Sulaimon was dismissed, a secretary in the Duke basketball office and university senior resigned from his job after informing an administrative assistant that he knew of the allegations. The former secretary told the Chronicle he was later informed that Krzyzewski and school vice president and director of athletics, Kevin White, were aware of the accusations.

On Jan. 29, Sulaimon became the first player in Krzyzewski’s 35-year Duke head coaching tenure to be dismissed from the team. He had a standout freshman season, scoring 11.6 points per game, but his statistics have regressed in the past two seasons.

“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program,” Krzyzewski said in a press release at the time of Sulaimon’s dismissal. “It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”

The Chronicle had previously reported that the dismissal was not the result of a single incident, but rather because of a “buildup of issues.”

March 2 2015 2:36 PM

It’s Been 80 Days Since the Last U.S. Military Combat Death. That’s Remarkable. 

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe noted a pretty incredible milestone last week: Last Wednesday marked 75 days without a U.S. military combat death, the longest period since before 9/11. It hadn’t gone over 50 days since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The last U.S. fatalities, Spc. Wyatt Martin and Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Morris, were killed by an improvised explosive device in Parwan province, Afghanistan, on Dec. 12.

American civilians have died in combat zones since then, including ISIS prisoners and contractors killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Congress’s passage of a new bill to prevent veteran suicide earlier this month is a good reminder that not all war deaths happen on the battlefield. But this is still a remarkable and long-overdue development.


It also comes at a time when the U.S. military is ramping up involvement in the ISIS conflict, maintaining a presence in Afghanistan that’s not technically a combat role but still involves a fair amount of combat, and waging an ongoing drone campaign in Yemen. Meanwhile, neither Congress nor the White House seems to be in much of a hurry to place limits on the use of the American military or even define the conflicts it’s fighting. 

Lamothe’s article was pegged to a panel discussion in Washington at which the father of a U.S. airman killed in Afghanistan questioned a self-described “hawkish” congressman, Rep. Adam Kinzinger*, on whether he was aware of how long it had been since a soldier was killed. (He was not.) “When you talk about being a hawk, maybe that is something that you’d really want to keep track of,” the father, Fred Boenig, told the congressman.

While it’s absolutely encouraging that American soldiers are dying less often after a draining and bloody decade, it would be a mistake for political leaders to take this to mean that war can be waged indefinitely without consequences.

Update: This post originally misspelled Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s last name.

March 2 2015 1:05 PM

Mysterious Tunnel Was Really Just a Harmless “Man Cave,” Say Police

Canada’s Great Tunnel Mystery is no longer a whodunit—but it appears destined to remain a head-scratcher nonetheless.

Toronto police announced Monday that they had found the two men who were responsible for digging the elaborate tunnel that briefly piqued the Internet’s interest last week. After speaking with them, however, officers decided that the men had gone through all that trouble for “personal reasons,” and that there was nothing more to worry about.


“It’s very strange. I’m not going to say it’s not,” Detective Scott Whittemore told the National Post on Monday. “The big question is ‘Why?’ You know, having worked in homicide for six years, a lot times the question ‘Why did this happen?’ is very rarely answered. You just try to deal with what you’ve got. But that’s the million-dollar question.” Whittemore described the two amateur excavators as “just blue collar guys” in their early 20s who were not professional tunnelers or engineers. “They were forthright and kind of — I don’t know what the word is — apologetic,” the detective told the paper.

The unidentified pair won’t face criminal charges for digging the 30-odd-foot tunnel that was found near York University and the Rexall Centre, which will host the 2015 Pan American Games this summer. The reason for that, as Deputy Chief Mark Saunders put it simply last week: “There is no criminal offense for digging a hole.” If the cops wanted to be sticklers, they could probably find a minor mischief-related charge or two, but they have no interest in that. “There’s no sense wasting the court's time,” Whittemore said Monday.

For those of who missed it last week (I don’t know, perhaps you were distracted elsewhere), police went public with the tunnel after discovering it last month when a conservation worker stumbled across it. Officials turned to the public to help them solve the mystery, and that’s ultimately what happened. Given its location near the Rexall Centre, there had been some speculation that the tunnel—which experts said likely took weeks to build—could have been terrorism-related, although police never seemed overly concerned on that front.

“It is simply two guys who just wanted to dig a cave,” Toronto police spokesman Victor Kwong told CBC News. “That really is what our investigation has led to ... they just wanted to dig a cave to hang out.” The two men, however, will need to find a new place to do just that—police have since filled in their tunnel.

March 2 2015 12:52 PM

What Does it Mean for the Leader of a Foreign Country to Be a Republican?

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected charges that he is injecting partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. “The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” he said. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”

It’s a little late for that, Bibi. Tuesday, Netanyahu is giving what was billed from the moment it was announced as a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Much of the controversy surrounding the visit has been over the perceived mutual snubbing and sniping between Netanyahu’s office and the White House and what it says about the relationship between the two leaders. (Nothing good.) But the bigger story is Netanyahu firmly aligning himself in the camp of one of America’s political parties to the exclusion of the other one—a strategy that could, in the long term, be extremely detrimental to Israel’s interests.


Given the “very real difference” between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli leader’s decision to accept John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress made some tactical sense. Netanyahu believes Obama is on the verge of making a historically dangerous deal with Iran and doesn’t see any prospect for changing his mind. Given that his officials say he’s “written off” Obama and doesn’t see any chance of changing his mind, why not reach out to Congress, the “last brake” to stop the deal, diplomatic niceties be damned?

But even if he’s not particularly interested in what the White House thinks of him at this point, what’s harder to understand is the cold shoulder Netanyahu has given congressional Democrats, some of whom have been willing in the past to push back against the White House on the Iran issue. The most striking moment in this whole mess was not so much Netanyahu accepting Boehner’s invitation, though that could certainly have been handled more deftly. It was when Netanyahu declined a closed-door meeting with congressional Democrats. This would seem to have been a welcome opportunity for some fence-mending given that a number of prominent members of Congress, including the most senior senator, Patrick Leahy, and a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are skipping his speech over the perceived insult to Obama. Instead, Netanyahu dug in deeper, making the long-standing joke about Netanyahu being the “Republican senator” from Israel seeming not really like a joke anymore.

It’s one of the necessary hypocrisies of diplomacy between democracies that governments have to pretend they don’t have a stake in each other’s domestic politics. Sometimes they don’t do a particularly good job of selling the fiction. Other European governments clearly hoped Greek voters would elect someone other than the left-wing Syriza party during last month’s election, for instance. Obama was, himself, the beneficiary of several de facto endorsements from European leaders in 2008. The U.S.-Israel relationship hasn’t been immune from this kind of gamesmanship either: George H.W. Bush fairly transparently attempted to tip the scales in favor of Yitzhak Rabin over Yitzhak Shamir in 1991, and Bill Clinton tried unsuccessfully to do the same for Shimon Peres over Netanyahu in 1996.

What is unprecedented is the extent to which Netanyahu has firmly allied himself with one American party over another—not just during an election but in the making of policy. At this point, U.S. domestic politics are probably a better lens for analyzing Netanyahu’s actions than foreign policy: He’s interacting with the White House less in the manner of François Hollande or David Cameron than in that of Mitch McConnell or John Boehner.

Pragmatism would seem to argue against this approach: Foreign leaders don’t have much influence over other countries’ voters, and they’re going to have to deal with whoever is in power. Angela Merkel clearly didn’t want François Hollande to be elected and backed his opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, to an unusual extent in 2012. But while the two clearly aren’t overly fond of each other, they’ve found ways to work together. Narendra Modi wasn’t even allowed to enter the United States until a few months ago, but the U.S.-India relationship has actually improved since he came into office. Margaret Thatcher may have been ideologically simpatico with Ronald Reagan’s Republicans, but she got along decently with Jimmy Carter as well.

But Netanyahu, who appointed a former GOP pollster as his ambassador to Washington, is taking a different, and historically unusual, approach—essentially aligning Israel’s interests with the fortunes of one American political party. 

Even the right-leaning, pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC seems baffled by this approach, with one official telling the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg last week, “[Ambassador Ron] Dermer and Netanyahu don’t believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel, which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that most Jews are Democrats.”

Indeed, it is bizarre with for the leader of a country with a stake in U.S. political debates to write off one of America’s political parties, and even stranger for the leader of Israel to write off the party that 70 percent of American Jews support. With polls showing younger and more secular American Jews less attached to Israel than their parents, we’re quickly drifting toward a place where Orthodox Jews, who tend to lean further to the right, and the Christian right, replace the broader American Jewish community as Israel’s most enthusiastic U.S. supporters. That cannot be good for Israel.

March 2 2015 11:37 AM

You’ll Never Guess Who Cleveland Says Is to Blame for Police Killing 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice

The city of Cleveland has decided who to blame for the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was holding a toy gun when he was shot by police this past November: Tamir Rice.

March 2 2015 10:42 AM

How Obama Will Use the DOJ’s Civil Rights Probe to Reform the Ferguson PD

The Justice Department is reportedly putting the finishing touches on the parallel investigations it launched in the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri, this past summer. The results of the first of those investigations—into whether civil rights charges should be filed against Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown—is largely a formality at this point. That was always going to be a long shot, and law enforcement officials have already signaled that charges are unlikely.

The drama instead lies in the second investigation, which is a broader look into how the Ferguson Police Department does business. According to the New York Times, that report, which could come as soon as this week, will almost certainly be highly critical of the department. Here’s the Grey Lady with the details:

While the Justice Department’s exact findings are not yet known, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who is expected to leave office in the next few weeks, and other officials have said publicly that their investigation has focused on the use of excessive force and the treatment of prisoners in local jails as well as the traffic stops. …
Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.
For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.

The release of the DOJ report is only a first step toward fixing the police department—but it’s nonetheless a crucial one. Assuming Holder does indeed conclude that there was a pattern of misconduct by the Ferguson PD, the report will give President Obama the ability to force widespread reforms within the department with the help of a law passed in the wake of the Rodney King beating.

As I explained this past summer, the law in question effectively leaves the city of Ferguson with two options: 1) Local officials can either enter into what is known as a “consent decree” with the feds that would mandate a specific set of reforms that would then be overseen by an independent court-appointed monitor, or 2) The city can refuse and instead face an almost certain federal civil rights lawsuit.

City officials haven’t said whether they’ll take the easy path or the more difficult one. But faced with the possibility of a costly court battle, most cities have historically taken the path of least resistance and signed on the decree’s dotted lines. Ferguson officials probably wouldn’t buck that trend. (There are exceptions to every rule, of course. The DOJ currently has four such lawsuits open, according to the Times, including one against Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona.)

To get an idea of what such a consent decree might look like, I spoke with Samuel Walker, the emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, this past summer. Each settlement is unique, but generally speaking they last a minimum of five years and ensure that the reform process is a public one. The agreed-upon reforms have historically covered three main areas, according to Walker: overhauling of the department’s use-of-force policies, including how such incidents are investigated internally; enacting an early-intervention system that relies on a variety of data, ranging from citizen complaints against an officer to the demographics of his or her traffic stops; and creating a clear, open process through which citizens can lodge complaints when they feel they’ve been mistreated.

In the past two decades, more than 20 cities have entered into such agreements with the federal government—both big cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans and smaller ones closer in size to Ferguson, like East Haven, Connecticut, and Steubenville, Ohio. While the results are mixed, there is precedent for significant reforms. The best-documented example of such an effort succeeding is, somewhat remarkably, in Los Angeles, where the beating of King by police helped prompt passage of the federal law in the first place.

For more on the upcoming report, check out the Times article. For more on consent decrees, check out my piece from this past summer.

March 1 2015 11:53 PM

L.A. Police Caught on Video Shooting Homeless Man to Death

Los Angeles police shot and killed a homeless man on Sunday during a disturbing confrontation that was caught on video. The video, which was posted on Facebook (and contains lots of cursing) shows a group of police officers get into a struggle with a man who is on a sidewalk next to tents. It begins with the man apparently swinging violently toward the officers. One of the officers drops his nightstick, which is picked up by a woman, who is then violently handcuffed. Then what looks like four officers continue to struggle with the man and at one point it sounds as if one of the officers yells, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” At that point, at least five gunshots are heard although from the recording it isn’t clear whether more than one officer opened fire.

The Los Angeles Times talks to witnesses who say the victim was a homeless man known as “Africa” but no one really has an explanation for what actually happened. One witness said Africa had been fighting with someone in his tent and then lunged at the officers when they tried to break up the fight. That is the same version that another witness recounts to CBS. “Next thing I know,” said the witness, “dude swung on a cop and the cop swung back. And they were hitting on him and then two other cop cars pulled up and they got out of the car and ran over there, and they had three tasers out.”  


Another witness tells the Los Angeles Times Africa tried to grab a weapon from a police officer while a resident in the area claims police already had Africa in their sights because they had asked him repeatedly to take down his tent. “This man got shot over a tent,” the witness said. Police have yet to confirm how many rounds were fired.