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Feb. 13 2016 5:06 PM

Reports: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at 79

At least two media outlets are reporting Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in a luxury resort in West Texas on Saturday morning. The San Antonio Express-News says Scalia was found dead “of apparent natural causes” while at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. Someone apparently went looking for Scalia Saturday morning after the 79-year-old Supreme Court justice failed to show up for breakfast and found him dead in his room. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, according to a federal official cited anonymously by the Express-News.

Local ABC affiliate KVIA is also reporting the news, claiming it received confirmation that Scalia “died in his sleep … after a day of quail hunting.”

Feb. 13 2016 1:07 PM

Watch ESPN Cut Off Win Butler’s Political MVP Speech at NBA Celebrity Game

Arcade Fire singer Win Butler was crowned the most valuable player after Friday night’s NBA Celebrity All-Star game. With 15 points and 14 rebounds he was seen as instrumental in helping the Drake-coached Team Canada win the match 74-63. After the game, Butler accepted the MVP award, and things quickly got awkward during the center-court interview as soon as the frontman tried to get political.

“Thank you, I just want to say that as an election year in the U.S. ...” those words appeared to be a cue in the control room because music immediately started playing over Butler’s words as if he had taken too long to get off the stage at the Oscars. Butler kept talking anyway: “The U.S. has a lot they can learn from Canada: healthcare, taking care of people …” That’s when ESPN’s Sage Steele had heard enough: “So we’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics. Congratulations on your MVP!”

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“Thank God,” writes the Guardian’s Dave Schilling. “The last thing I want from my novelty basketball game is anything that actually matters to the fate of the planet. Hopefully Sage gets a raise for her quick thinking.”

Feb. 13 2016 11:34 AM

Columbine Shooter’s Mother Says She Prayed for Son’s Death After Hearing of Attack

The mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold is breaking her silence and speaking to the media ahead of the release of her memoir, A Mother’s Reckoning, on Monday. In an interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, Sue Klebold said she had no idea there was anything wrong with her son before the 1999 attack. In fact, Klebold insists that before Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris began a shooting ramapage that killed 12 fellow students and a teacher she thought she was the kind of parent who knew her kid and would have known if something was wrong.

“Before Columbine happened, I would have been one of those parents,” Klebold said. “I think we like to believe that our love and our understanding is protective, and that ‘if anything were wrong with my kids, I would know,’ but I didn’t know, and I wasn’t able to stop him from hurting other people. I wasn’t able to stop his hurting himself and it’s very hard to live with that.”
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Coming to terms with the feeling that she didn’t really know her own son was one of the most difficult aspects of the mental turmoil that followed her around after the shooting.

"Part of the shock of this was that learning that what I believed and how I lived and how I parented was an invention in my own mind. That it, it was a completely different world that he was living in."

During the interview, Klebold also recalled how she prayed for her son’s death when she first heard of the attack.

“I remember thinking, ‘if this is true, if Dylan is really hurting people, he has to—somehow he has to be stopped.’ And at that moment, I prayed that he would die, that— ‘God, stop this, just make it stop. Don’t let him hurt anybody.’”

Although that may have been her first reaction, Klebold also told the BBC it took her a while to really accept that her son had been a cold-blooded murderer.

“What I believed, at first, was that he was involved in something that had gone terribly wrong and people were hurt and killed. But in my mind, I could not accept him as a killer… until six months later when I actually saw the police report and they were able to say yes, this really occurred.”

Feb. 13 2016 11:25 AM

Death Toll From Taiwan Earthquake Reaches 116

Rescue efforts have ended a week after Taiwan was struck by a powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake as the remains of the last person missing from a collapsed building were found. A total of 114 bodies were pulled out of the Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building in Tainan. Two other people died elsewhere in the city after the Feb. 6 quake.

Rescuers were successful in pulling out 175 people alive from the 17-story building, although no survivors had been found since Monday. Authorities have detained three people as part of an investigation to figure out why the building was the only one in the city of two million to collapse.

Feb. 13 2016 9:29 AM

How Pope Francis Can Actually Make a Difference in Mexico

Pope Francis arrived late Friday in Mexico, home to the largest Spanish-speaking Catholic population and the second-largest Catholic population in the world. The country will spend $8.6 million on his visit, and more than 882,000 tickets to pope-related events have been sold. People across the country have been eagerly preparing for his visit for months, particularly activists who hope he will speak on the issues he holds dear and that greatly preoccupy Mexico.

Pope Francis has positioned himself as the pope of the poor, of the marginalized, of immigrants, particularly of immigrants from Latin America in the U.S., most of whom are Mexican. His trip to Mexico will include a visit to a prison and a slum; the mass he leads will be translated into three indigenous languages; he will wear traditional clothes woven by indigenous groups. These will all be powerful symbolic gestures, I’m sure. But no matter how well intentioned, Pope Francis’s visit is unlikely to make a dent in the tragic, unmitigated disaster that is Mexico today.

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The Vatican itself has acknowledged that the pope is not going to Mexico to fix its problems. But if he wants to make a difference in the causes he champions, in a country he says holds a special place in his heart, speaking out on one particular issue could in fact provoke lasting social change: the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.

The government’s official version of the disappearance, though it has been widely and publically discredited, is this: On the night of Sept. 26, 2014, the mayor of the nearby town of Iguala and his wife ordered local police to capture a group of students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero, who were traveling to Iguala to raise funds and protest recent school reforms. Local police then turned them in to a local drug gang, who then killed and burned the students in a nearby dumpster. Three gang members were arrested and even confessed to the gruesome crime.

But the story didn’t add up. The students’ parents, activist groups, human rights groups, and ordinary Mexicans began to demand that the students’ bodies be found and those responsible be apprehended. The federal government, including president Peña Nieto and then attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, delayed their response, and when they reluctantly faced the students’ parents and the press, they were dismissive, even rude, inspiring more protests and social media outrage. After increased pressure, the administration finally agreed to allow a team of foreign forensic experts to lead an independent investigation. The team concluded what most in Mexico suspected, and what scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and independent media investigations, have repeatedly said before and since: That the government’s version of events is scientifically impossible. Even though thousands of official documents and video from that night show evidence of direct federal police and military involvement, to this day no arrests have been made at the federal level.

Mexico’s problems are terrifyingly complex, but they all swirl around drug trafficking, violence, corruption, and impunity. And no other issue better exemplifies this mess of problems, this collusion between the cartels, local drug gangs, and local and federal authorities, as Ayotzinapa does. Though violence has decreased in the last three years, since 2006, when former president Felipe Calderón declared his war on drugs lords, at least 138,000 people have died. There are currently nine major cartels present in practically all of Mexican territory. They have infiltrated city-level governments and prisons. This narcoviolence in turn drives street-level gang violence, draining the state of resources that are funneled into a failed drug war and an overpopulated prison industrial complex that rivals that of the U.S.

Such colossal levels of violence, and a multilayered narcotrafficking industry that could be its own parallel state, can only be possible when the government colludes with the criminals. A study by the Center of Justice and Impunity at the Puebla University of the Americas in Mexico concluded that 99 percent of crimes in Mexico go unpunished. And then there is the tragic state of the press. Mexico has the third highest number of journalist killings in the world: 23 have been murdered in the past 13 years. Just this week, the body of a journalist from Veracruz was found hanging from a tree. It is this climate of fear and impunity that has allowed Ayotzinapa, a gruesome crime where unequivocally incriminating evidence is widely available, to go unpunished.

The pope has spoken out against narcotrafficking, violence, corruption, and crime—but appealing to drug lords or corrupt politicians seems unlikely to be effective. He should instead  make a direct call for people, particularly young people, “to keep up your struggle,” as he said to grassroots activist groups in Bolivia, to hold politicians accountable for enabling the current murderous status quo. It’s in this demographic where he can have a bigger impact.

Though the pope won’t visit Ayotzinapa, he will be giving a mass in Ciudad Juarez, which various victims and victims’ families will attend, including the parents of the 43 students—a significant gesture on Francis’s part. Emiliano Ruiz Parra writes in Mexican online magazine Horizontal:

Ciudad Juárez, where the pope’s tour ends, is perhaps the most politicized city in the country…. The violence from the Drug War triggered the creation of dozens of organizations that denounced the complicity of the armed forces and Federal Police with organized crime. It’s in [Ciudad Juarez] that Francis’s social causes come together: immigration, marginalized populations, labor exploitation, femicide…. Meaning, Francis will close his trip with a political message that will, most likely, make Peña Nieto’s administration very uncomfortable.

I hope that message includes a direct reference to Ayotzinapa.

Feb. 12 2016 4:45 PM

This Week’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings

Rectangles are sized by number of retweets. Click on a candidate to zoom in.
Interactive by Andrew Kahn

Hello and welcome to Slatest’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings. 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. (Click to zoom in on a particular candidate, and click again to see the content of each tweet.)

Below, meanwhile, you’ll find our tried-and-true method of ranking each candidate’s single most successful tweet of the past seven days. Together, the two offer a helpful snapshot of which topics dominated the political conversation online and also give us some insight into which contenders are winning the campaign Twitter wars and why.

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The ground rules again:

  • For the rankings below, we’re defining a candidate’s most successful tweet as the one that receives the most retweets.
  • Tweets that include a direct request for a retweet are ineligible for the traditional rankings because that’s cheating. RT if you agree! (Retweet-begging tweets, though, will still appear in the interactive at the top.)
  • Only tweets from the past seven days are eligible. Since we’ll publish the weekly rankings every Friday, that means 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.) Bernie Sanders (Last week: 2)

2.) Donald Trump (1)

3.) Hillary Clinton (3)

4.)  Jeb Bush (9)

5.) Ted Cruz (6)

6.) Marco Rubio (5)

7.) Ben Carson (4)

8.) John Kasich (10)

9.) Jim Gilmore (7)

Dropped Out: Carly Fiorina (8) and Chris Christie (11)

Individual RT Winner: Bernie Sanders

This week belonged to Bernie, so it's fitting that he topped the single-tweet leaderboard with a celebratory message following his dominant victory in the New Hampshire primary. Sanders supporters did more than just click the RT button, they also opened up their wallets. According to his campaign, Bernie raised more than $6 million between when the polls closed Tuesday and 8 p.m. the following day, a new 24-hour-record for the campaign's undisputed small-dollar champion.

Overall RT Winner: Donald Trump

Trump topped the overall RT standings, as he almost always does. Like Sanders, he also notched a race-changing victory this week. Unlike Sanders, his social media fans were more interested in their man's trenchant sports commentary than in celebrating his New Hampshire win.

Accepting Defeat: Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio

Things couldn't have gone much worse in New Hampshire for either Clinton or Rubio. Hillary lost to Bernie by a whopping 22 points in a two-person Democratic race; Marco finished in a distant sixth in a crowded GOP field, 25 points behind Trump, a man running against the GOP establishment, and 5 points behind runner-up John Kasich, a man running toward it. Their responses—on Twitter, and at their primary night rallies—though, were near-opposites: Rubio admitted he needed to do better, while Clinton vowed to stay the course.

Final Words: Jim Gilmore

The former Virginia governor was still (technically) running for president as of our late-morning deadline for this week's rankings. Late Friday afternoon, though, news broke that he was calling it quits—which means his last appearance in our Twitter rankings will be about ... puppies. Here's the event he so desperately wanted his followers to know was "real":

Gilmore-mentum no more.

Feb. 12 2016 4:01 PM

The Friday Slatest Newsletter

Most of Slatest's red-hot headlines today were about last night's Democratic debate in Milwaukee:

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In other news, a temporary "cessation of hostilities" deal got done in Syria—but there are a lot of reasons to doubt its worth. And the second-largest desert preserve in the world was created in California, which is neat!

Have a good weekend.

Feb. 12 2016 1:31 PM

Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Have a Practical Plan, or Any Plan, for Universal Health Care Coverage

Probably the most common analysis of the Democratic presidential primary is that Bernie Sanders is an ambitious dreamer while Hillary Clinton is a practical realist who may as well have the word PRAGMATISM tattooed on her knuckles. If elected, Clinton's plan is to "grind out victories of compromise in Congress," Vox's Ezra Klein writes in a piece called "Hillary Clinton and the Audacity of Political Realism." By contrast, says New York's Jonathan Chait, "in place of any practical road map to enacting his ideas, Sanders substitutes the 'political revolution,' an event he invokes constantly that will sweep aside all impediments." (While Chait's statement implies that he thinks Clinton is a superior candidate, Sanders supporters themselves don't necessarily see Sanders' ambition or rhetoric about "political revolution" as a bad thing.)

The primary issue that has been most often framed in terms of the fantasy/practicality divide is health care, specifically the matter of universal coverage. The Affordable Care Act has significantly reduced the number of Americans who don't have health insurance, but about 11 percent of the population remains uninsured. Sanders advocates for a single-payer health-care system that covers all citizens, saying it is more or less a moral necessity. Clinton says Sanders' plan is unrealistic and that universal coverage should be achieved incrementally. Here's Clinton herself on that subject in last night's debate:

I can only say that we both share the goal of universal health care coverage. ... [In the early '90s] I took on the drug companies and insurance companies to try to get us universal health care coverage. And while I am a staunch supporter of President Obama's principal accomplishment, namely the Affordable Care Act, I know how hard it was to get that done. We are at 90 percent coverage. We have to get the remaining 10 percent.
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Listening to this, or reading health care policy expert Jonathan Cohn write in the Huffington Post that "Clinton wants to build on the existing system" to achieve "universal health care," one might presume that Clinton has proposed some sort of non-single-payer plan for expanding coverage, for getting that "remaining 10 percent." I myself assumed that, given Clinton's vaunted command of practical detail and real-world strategy, she must have released some detailed policy plan on the subject—a practical road map. It frustrated me that she never talked about what that plan was, but I was sure it existed.

It does not. On Clinton's campaign website, for instance, there is a discussion of the need to "expand affordable coverage" and "make progress toward universal coverage" in general terms, but no proposal on the means for doing so. There is no plan. There is no practical road map. I asked the Clinton campaign about this, and they directed to me to several progressive proposals she's made that are in fact quite specific about how she would reduce costs for people who already have insurance. But if you can tell me how President Clinton would provide coverage to the 11 percent of Americans who don't have it right now, I'll send you one American dollar (and update this article).

There are logical political reasons why this might be the case. Clinton has already apparently convinced most people that she's the practical candidate, so why expose herself to criticism that her own plan is unrealistic? Listing specific promises or goals related to universal coverage, as Slate's Jamelle Bouie noted this morning in regards to the "public option," would just create ammunition that could be used against her when/if she's elected and the Republican Congress refuses to pass anything that expands the ACA. (Think about Obama's promise to close Guantánamo, which he's still taking heat for even though the issue is largely out of his control.)

The Republican Congress won't, of course, pass a universal coverage bill under either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders without some sort of major paradigm shift in United States politics. Still. If you're the practical and realistic candidate, and the practical and realistic truth is that universal health coverage will not be achieved in the next four years, how is it any less of a fantasy to say, in vague terms, that you will make progress toward it incrementally? "It is difficult to, in any way, argue with the goal that we both share," Clinton said last night about universal coverage. Then she challenged Sanders to defend his single payer dream. "I think the American people deserve to know specifically how this would work," she said. Amen!

Feb. 12 2016 1:27 PM

Bernie and Hillary Have Major Differences on Climate. If Only the Debate Moderators Would Ask.

If human civilization were facing a potentially existential threat, you’d probably want to know about what our leading candidates to run our country thought about it, right?

There was no question on climate change during Thursday night’s PBS-sponsored Democratic debate in Milwaukee. This, despite the Supreme Court dealing a meaningful, though likely temporary blow to the centerpiece of Obama’s climate policy on Tuesday and a defiant President Obama including a sweeping set of proposals to transition the nation’s transportation sector toward fossil-free sources of energy in his annual budget proposal on Wednesday.

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This isn’t the first time moderators have ignored climate change. Back in December, just a few days after world leaders achieved the first-ever global agreement on climate change in Paris, Democratic debate moderators were silent. By my count, moderators have asked substantive questions on climate change in only half of the first six Democratic debates. That’s better than nothing, but given how consequential and urgent the topic is, I expect more.

Apparently, so do voters. In a Quinnipiac poll released on the day of the Iowa caucuses, 11 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers ranked climate change as their top issue, third only to the economy (36 percent) and health care (22 percent). Climate change ranked higher than terrorism, immigration, and gun policy combined. And caucusgoers who listed climate as their main concern broke for Sanders by a whopping 66 to 30 margin, almost certainly making the race there closer.

Perhaps one of the reasons climate doesn’t come up more in the debates is the conventional wisdom that Clinton and Sanders basically agree on the issue. But that’s simply not true. There are substantial differences between the two candidates.

Both agree that climate change is real and not a massive conspiracy between scientists and the government so that nerds can get rich stealing tax dollars. Both want to cut subsidies to fossil fuel companies and shift the country toward renewable energy (though neither to the level scientists say is necessary). At this point, these are basic staples of Democratic Party orthodoxy—and what casual observers already know.

Their differences, though, are substantial: Sanders’ climate plan is much more comprehensive than Clinton’s and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a faster rate. He’s forcefully linked climate change and terrorism. He’s staunchly opposed to continued fossil fuel exploration on public lands and has vowed to ban fracking outright, a stance Clinton doesn’t share. His focus on ridding politics of corporate lobbyists is a swipe against Clinton, whose campaign has taken money from fossil fuel companies. On the flip side, unlike Clinton, Sanders wants to phase out nuclear energy, a position that many scientists and environmentalists increasingly don’t share, given the need to transition toward a zero carbon economy as quickly as possible.

As for Clinton, though her presidential campaign was launched with a historic focus on climate, when she talks about climate change, it often feels like she’s playing catch-up. In recent months, Clinton has shifted her position to be more hawkish on Arctic drilling, the Keystone pipeline and on restricting fossil fuel exploration on public lands, likely in response to pressure from Sanders and voters.

When Sanders won New Hampshire this week, he devoted a big chunk of his victory speech to climate change. When Clinton conceded, she didn’t mention it once. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the New Hampshire winner (Donald Trump) is a climate conspiracy theorist. People often ask me if I feel hopeless about climate. Only when it's not taken seriously.

Feb. 12 2016 12:22 PM

More Evidence That Hillary’s Answer on Super PACs Last Night Was a Joke

During an otherwise strong, albeit not quite spectacular, debate performance on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton gave her latest in a string of weak answers on the topic of money and politics. Asked about the wealthy financiers who are funding her affiliated super PAC, Clinton responded with a more nuanced version of: Priorities USA? Barely know ‘em.

“You're referring to a super PAC that we don't coordinate with, that was set up to support President Obama, that has now decided they want to support me,” Hillary said on the PBS stage. “They are the ones who should respond to any questions." During the exchange that followed, she added: “It's not my PAC.”

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As my colleague Jim Newell noted, that answer is laughable. Yes, Priorities USA was created to help Obama get re-elected in 2012. And yes, technically, the Clinton campaign cannot officially “coordinate” with the group without running afoul of federal election law. But the group—now the largest liberal super PAC in the country—is very much part of Clinton’s efforts to win the White House. It formally aligned itself with Hillary more than a year ago, and is run by a number of Clinton’s longtime loyalists and former aides. Hillary has even personally courted donors herself, as has her campaign chairman, John Podesta, and her husband, Bill Clinton. Priorities USA is very much Hillary’s super PAC despite what she wants you to believe.

In case we needed any more evidence, it came this morning via the Washington Post, which reported that Priorities USA is set to make its “first significant foray into the 2016 primary” in the form of a radio campaign blitz in South Carolina and a “$4.5 million effort to drive early turnout of African American, Latino and female voters in states that hold contests in March.”

The timing of the announcement is both awkward for Hillary (given her answer on stage) and not a moment too soon (given her need to rebound after the first two nominating contests). Recent history suggests that’s a trade-off she’s willing to make.

In completely unrelated news, shortly after Clinton lost New Hampshire by a massive margin this week and shortly before Priorities USA announced it would come to her aid in the primary, Hillary’s campaign circulated a detailed memo outlining her strategy moving forward. A lot of it might sound a wee bit familiar, particularly passages like this one about what one might describe as, um, an effort to drive early turnout of African American, Latino and female voters in states that hold contests in March:

For Hillary Clinton and her campaign, the March states represent an opportunity to build a coalition of support that’s as diverse as the Democratic Party itself. Hispanics and African Americans play a critical role in who we are as a party and who we are as a nation. Many of the most delegate-rich states also have some of the largest minority and urban populations—states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois and Florida.

In theory, Clinton cannot tell Priorities USA when, where, and how to spend the millions of dollars it has raised from deep-pocketed donors with her help. What her campaign can do, though, is talk openly about what it would like to see happen and hope someone at the group’s HQ gets the message. It appears it came through loud and clear.

This type of workaround is frustratingly common in modern politics. Still, taken with Clinton’s disingenuous answer at Thursday’s debate, it’s a stark reminder that the current laws are as easy to circumvent as they are to use as political cover.

Previously on the Slatest:

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