The Slatest
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July 29 2015 10:58 PM

First Debris of Malaysia Airlines MH370 Thought to Be Found 3,000 Miles From Disappearance

Investigators believe they may have found debris from Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which vanished in March 2014, on the small island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, more than 3,000 miles from the plane’s last known location. A piece of debris washed up on the French island that American investigators believe is from a Boeing 777, the same type of plane as MH370; there are no other 777s known to be missing.

The American officials’ assessment is based on photographic and video evidence and French authorities are working to confirm that the debris, which appeared to be a 9-foot by 3-foot wing flap, according to the New York Times, is the first sign of MH370 since it departed from its original flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and vansished over the South China Sea. An aviation expert told Agence France-Presse a reference code on the discovered wreckage should make it possible to clearly identify whether the debris is from MH370 within days.

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July 29 2015 9:30 PM

UVA Frat Members Sue Rolling Stone for Defamation Over Retracted Rape Story

It seemed like only a matter of time before the lawsuits started flying in the aftermath of the retracted Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape story. On Wednesday, three recent graduates—who were members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity depicted in the story—filed suit against the magazine; its publisher, Wenner Media; and the author of the story, Sabrina Erdely.

George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford, and Ross Fowler are seeking unspecified damages for defamation. The Rolling Stone article did not name the men, who graduated in 2013, but, the lawsuit claims, the details of the story made clear who the alleged perpetrators of the gang rape—that turned out not to have happened—were.

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Here’s more on the suit from the Associated Press:

“Upon release of the article, family friends, acquaintances, co-workers and reporters easily matched (Elias) as one of the alleged attackers and, among other things, interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him,” the lawsuit said, adding that Hadford and Fowler “suffered similar attacks.” In the lawsuit, their lawyer said each of their identities was listed online by anonymous users when the article first came out and each of their “names will forever be associated with the alleged gang rape.” “These claims had a devastating effect on each of the plaintiffs’ reputations,” their lawyer, Alan L. Frank, wrote in Wednesday’s filing.

An associate dean at UVA sued Rolling Stone in May for $7.5 million for the magazine’s depiction of her involvement in the disciplinary process.

July 29 2015 8:09 PM

U.S. History AP Course Guide Juiced Up With More “American Exceptionalism”

The framework for how teachers teach U.S. History Advanced Placement courses in classrooms across the country is set to be revised for the second year in a row on Thursday, Newsweek reports. The new outline, around which teachers create their own curriculum and lesson plans, comes with a little more postive spin on America's past, a year after the amended course outline caused a collective aneurism among conservatives that it was not sufficiently pro-America.

Several states introduced legislation aimed at banning the American history course after last year's update; the Republican National Committee voted to withhold federal funding from the College Board, which creates and administers the test; Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that version of the AP test would have students “ready to sign up for ISIS” upon completion.

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Here’s more from Newsweek on some of the latest changes made by the College Board:

…a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism” has been added. Some names that were omitted from last year’s framework, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, have been added—a key sticking point for critics of the prior document, who objected to Founding Fathers being omitted and negative aspects in American history being more emphasized, they claimed, than positive periods.

“The AP U.S. History course is an advanced, college-level course – not an introductory U.S. history course — and is not meant to be students’ first exposure to the fundamental narrative of U.S. history,” authors of the test wrote in a letter last fall. The takeaway being: This is a deeper dive into American history aimed at developing critical thinking skills, not a survey course of American awesomeness. The College Board confirmed to Newsweek that “American exceptionalism” was included in the new framework and that it was left out previously only because “the organization assumed it wasn’t something it needed to spell out as part of what would be taught in an American history course.” They were obviously mistaken.

*Correction, July 29, 2015: This post originally misstated the number of mentions of slavery in the AP test framework declined in the new version; the number stayed approximately the same.

July 29 2015 5:19 PM

The Sam Dubose Police Report Is Full of Falsehoods From Ray Tensing’s Fellow Officers

After University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was charged with murdering Sam Dubose, an unarmed black man who had been pulled over on a traffic stop, it was clear that the police body cam video of the shooting played an enormous role in the indictment.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said a prosecution became urgent “especially after we saw the tape.”

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“I think it’s a good idea for police to wear them,” Deters said when he was asked if there would have been a prosecution without the video. “Because nine times out of 10 it clears them of wrongdoing. And in this case, it obviously led to an indictment for murder.”

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley added that “this case is going to help the cause of body cameras across the country.”

Mark O’Mara, a lawyer representing Dubose’s family, was even more forceful.

“If we didn’t have a video, I do not believe we would have had an indictment,” he said.

In a press conference Dubose’s sister, Terina Allen, gave the most emotionally powerful argument about the importance of having the recording from Tensing’s body camera.

“If it were not for that video camera, Sam would be no different than all of the other [unindicted police shootings of black men], because the second officer was ready to corroborate every lie that the first officer said in the report,” Allen said.

Allen raised the important point that Tensing’s story that he was dragged by the car before shooting—which Deters roundly rejected and cannot be seen anywhere in the video—was backed up by his fellow officers.

Reading the initial police report after having watched the video is a frightful lesson on the lengths to which officers will go to protect one another.

In the report, Tensing tells the reporting officer—Eric Weibel—that “he was attempting a traffic stop … when, at some point, he began to be dragged by a male black driver who was operating a 1998 Green Honda Accord.”

“Officer Tensing stated that he almost was run over by the driver of the Honda Accord and was forced to shoot the driver with his duty weapon,” Weibel’s report continues.

Later, “Tensing repeated that he was being dragged by the vehicle and had to fire his weapon.”

As Deters noted, and as you can see by slowing the video down, Tensing fired almost immediately as Dubose’s car began to roll away.

Tensing’s claim that he only shot after he was dragged, though, was supported by a second officer who claimed to be on the scene named Phillip Kidd.

“Officer Kidd told me that he witnessed the Honda Accord drag Officer Tensing, and that he witnessed Officer Tensing fire a single shot,” Weibel’s report reads.

Tensing also claimed to be injured by Dubose. But Deters contradicted that as well, saying, “No, he wasn’t dragged. He fell backwards after he shot him in the head.”

Again, Tensing’s fellow officers backed up the claim of injuries at the hand of Dubose. In dispatcher audio of the incident, the New York Times reported that you can hear another officer saying Tensing was injured. In the report itself, the responding officer seems to attempt to back up his colleague.

“Looking at Officer Tensing’s uniform, I could see that the back of his pants and shirt looked as if it had been dragged over a rough surface,” Weibel wrote. “I suggested to Officer Tensing that he should go to the hospital for an examination.”

The video shows Tensing chasing the car, which went out of control when Dubose was killed, after firing his shot, not being “dragged over a rough surface.”

Deters made a point to emphasize that the video clearly demonstrates that the shooting was not standard operating procedure, or the appropriate split-second decision of a cop who was just trying to protect himself. “He wasn’t dealing with somebody who was wanted for murder. He was dealing with somebody who didn’t have a front license plate,” Deters said. “If he’s starting to roll away just, seriously, let him go. I mean you don’t have to shoot him in the head.”

The police report and the various embellishments or outright lies Tensing’s brothers in arms told in order to back up his account are the clearest evidence supporting Allen’s belief that her brother’s killer would not be facing prosecution without a video.

But it’s not the only evidence. As the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Mark Berman noted, “Police officers are rarely charged after fatally shooting people. A Washington Post investigation found that thousands of police shootings over the last decade have resulted in a few dozen officers being charged.”

According to a Post database tracking police shootings, more than 550 people have been shot and killed by cops this year alone and only three officers had been charged with crimes. In two of the previous shootings where cops were actually held accountable in some way, there was video evidence.

As for what happens next for officers Kidd and Weibel, who supported Tensing’s false account, Deters said the city was “looking at the issue” at the urging of the Dubose family.

Weibel’s report did get one thing right—perhaps the most important thing. It concludes by saying “Officer Tensing stated that the incident was caught on his University issued body camera.”

July 29 2015 5:14 PM

Hacked Confederate Facebook Group Becomes Tribute to LGBT Rights, Obama, Judaism

Virgil Texas is a Brooklyn-based professional funny person who, on Monday, announced that he’d joined a private “Confederate Pride” Facebook group that had left some of its settings unlocked. He then appears to have surreptitiously changed its header picture a few times as a ruse before convincing the group’s administrators to give him the authority to change all its settings in order to “clean out all the trolls” who had been changing the header. (Ingenious!)

Then he changed the Confederate pride group into the “LGBT Southerners for Michelle Obama and Judaism” group.

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Original members were not amused.

Other hijinks were perpetrated.

Mr. Texas reports that he’s been kicked out of the group, but not quickly enough to prevent him from adding 50 other pranksters, who are also wreaking havoc, as administrators.

Reading his entire recent Twitter timeline is highly recommended.

July 29 2015 4:13 PM

Bashar al-Assad’s Luck May Finally Be Running Out

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has played a weak hand so well for so long that it seems foolhardy to bet against him. Even as he’s lost control over a significant portion of his territory and presided over the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, he’s kept his core supporters in line and remains in office years after most Mideast watchers thought he only had months left in power. He called Barack Obama’s bluff by using chemical weapons and managed to avoid intervention by giving them up. By either directly or tacitly fostering the rise of ISIS, he’s taken international attention off his own violence to the point that the U.S. seemed on the verge, just a few months ago, of admitting he would stay in power. All the while, he’s continued to terrorize the people of Syria with barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

But for the first time in a long time, recent developments seem not so great for Assad. This week, rebel groups are pushing into the Sahl al-Ghab plain in northwest Syria, an area that, as Reuters puts it, is “crucial to the defense of the coastal mountains that are the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect.” This follows fighting in May in which government forces lost most of northwestern Idlib province to fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. Assad admitted on Sunday that his military is short on manpower and will have to pull back from some strategically important areas.

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It’s also bad news for Assad that Turkey and the United States now seem to be on the same page when it comes to Syria. While the U.S. has been primarily focused on ISIS in Iraq, with the training of anti-Assad rebels in Syria relegated to the backburner, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has remained committed to Assad’s ouster. The agreement between the two governments reached last week is primarily focused on ISIS, but it also includes a plan to create a 60-mile-long “safe zone” across the Turkey-Syria border for “relatively moderate” rebels—meaning those who are not affiliated with ISIS and at least not openly affiliated with al-Qaida— and displaced Syrian civilians. This comes very close to the “no-fly zone” Turkey has advocated for years, though the U.S. is reluctant to call it that. Whatever it’s called, it’s bad news for the Syrian military—the only fighting force in the country with an air force.

The Wall Street Journal also suggested yesterday that officials in Russia—the Syrian government’s primary international backer along with Iran—are losing patience with their client in Damascus and are “showing more openness to discussing alternatives to Mr. Assad as his regime loses territory.” There’s been speculation about this before and it may be wishful thinking by Syrian opposition leaders, who are the article’s primary sources. (A Russian announcement this week that it is considering resuming oil and gas projects with Syria isn’t a hopeful sign.) But there are some intriguing details in the article, including the fact that Russian officials have been meeting with Syrian opposition groups in Turkey for the first time. The Journal also mentions a recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s foreign minister in which the Russian leader pointed out Assad’s military setbacks and suggested that the Syrian regime join forces with regional rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Such an alliance would be hard to imagine with Assad still in power. The well-connected Russian foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov suggests that the Kremlin is “looking at the acceptability of other candidates at this point.”

An even bigger question mark is Syria’s other main backer, Iran. Proponents of the recent nuclear deal suggest it could open up room for further negotiations between Iran and the west on regional issues, including Syria. Critics argue that the lifting of sanctions will give Tehran a cash windfall it could use to increase its support for Assad. The truth is neither side really knows how the deal will impact other, far more complex conflicts.

Assad’s departure won’t end the violence in Syria, or Iraq for that matter. ISIS without Assad will still be a factor for years to come if not longer and the complex constellation of rebel groups fighting Assad, including some linked to al-Qaida, aren’t just going to lay down their arms once he’s gone. But given the local carnage and global strife his rule has created, his departure from the scene would be a very welcome development, and there’s more hope for it right now than there’s been in years.  

July 29 2015 3:34 PM

Rubio Tweet About Dead Lion Strongly Undermines Rubio Reputation for Being Articulate

A lot of people on both sides of the political divide have been saying today that as a society we're expending too much emotional energy condemning a man for shooting a lion relative to the energy that we should be putting toward solving [insert larger-scale human problem here]. I'm not here to argue about whether that's true. I'm here to point out that Marco Rubio may need to attend remedial classes at the Derek Zoolander School for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Want To Do Other Stuff Good Too because his tweet on this subject was a real mess.

Let's set aside the fact that the lion/Planned Parenthood controversy comparison was made so many times online that Salon already had an article up about it two hours before Rubio sent his tweet. Let's just look at the words he used.

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1) Planned Parenthood should be capitalized.

2) This is a question. It should end with a question mark.

3) "Look at X, but ..." isn't a construction that makes sense. The words "look at" are unnecessary in this sentence.

And we're talking here about someone who's described as "articulate" so often that his legal name might as well be Articulate Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

C'mon, Marco Rubio or Marco Rubio's Twitter ghostwriter!

July 29 2015 1:54 PM

Cincinnati Prosecutor Announces Indictment of Officer for “Senseless” Murder of Black Driver

Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor Joe Deters announced that a grand jury has indicted 25-year-old University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing on murder charges in the July 19 shooting death of 43-year-old Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man who had been pulled over because his car was missing a front license plate. Deters released body-camera video of the incident, during which Tensing and DuBose discuss whether DuBose has a valid driver's license before they begin struggling and Tensing draws his gun and fires while the car rolls away. The gunshot can be heard on the video, but it's difficult to see exactly what's happening at that moment because Tensing is moving:

Deters said Tensing's actions were "senseless" and "horrible" and called the act of pulling DuBose over a "chickencrap stop." Tensing told an officer who responded after the shooting that he had been "dragged" by DuBose's car, but the video doesn't appear to show such an event. "If he's starting to roll away, just let him go," said Deters at today's press conference. "You don't have to shoot him in the head."

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Tensing has turned himself in to authorities.

July 29 2015 1:19 PM

NFL Team Says 7.8 Billion Unique Visitors Saw Coverage of Its 2014 Training Camp

Washington's NFL franchise has a notoriously troubled relationship with the concepts of facts and honesty, but this—via the DC Sports Bog—is a pretty good one even by their standards:

With the help of third-party media monitoring services Meltwater and TVEyes, the team put out a fancy 13-page report on its findings. That report determined, among other things, that there were “7,845,460,401 unique visitors of print/online coverage of the 2014 Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Camp from July 24-Aug. 12.” That’s a big number. To put it in perspective, that’s considerably more than the population of Earth, which the Census Bureau estimates at 7.26 billion.
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"Unique visitors" are individual humans who saw a given site or page in a given time period. (Another way of capturing the absurdity of the team's claim: It would mean that 2014 Washington training camp content was seen by six times as many people as Facebook has monthly worldwide users.)

The team's PR firm says that the number "must have been incorrectly labeled" and actually refers to a metric called "impressions" that the firm, as SB Nation points out, is also using in a ludicrous and inaccurate way. The DC Sports Bog notes that the team said a year ago that 2.95 billion unique visitors had seen coverage of the 2013 training camp, an equally bogus claim which would seem to indicate that this year's use of the term was not accidental.

July 29 2015 11:25 AM

Alabama Jail Staffers Reportedly Taunted Inmate With Burmese Python

This, from an Al.com story about a lawsuit filed by a former Alabama inmate named Travis Redding Jr. against parties including corrections officers named Zeneth Glenn and Ryan Mittlebach, is messed up:

According to the lawsuit, Redding claims Glenn brought a yellow Burmese python described as being 6 to 7 feet long into the jail.
He says Glenn and Mittlebach had the snake in the jail kitchen where he worked as a trustee on Aug. 11, 2013. Redding told them he was afraid of snakes and didn't want to be anywhere near it ... Several hours later, following breakfast, Redding said he went back to his bunk to take a nap. Redding claims when he woke up Glenn was holding the snake within inches of his face.
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As anyone who has ever been responsible for reading the unsolicited letters sent to news organizations can attest, prisoners make a lot of wild claims. But Redding's allegation has credibility: Dale County sheriff Wally Olson confirmed to a local NBC affiliate that an incident similar to the one described in the lawsuit had taken place and that Glenn and Mittlebach were fired as a result.

Watch out for pythons.

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