France can rightly boast that its national train system is much faster, newer, and generally more advanced than America's Amtrak network. But then it would have to eat crow for ordering 2,000 new trains that are too wide to fit in many of its stations. The national rail operator RFF acknowledged the error on Tuesday, explaining that it had given national railway company SNCF measurements for stations 30 years old or newer, when most of France's stations are at least 50 years old.
France has already spent about $110 million widening its train platforms, but hundreds more stations have to be retrofitted so the fat trains can pass through. The real problem is France's "absurd rail system," said Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier. In 1997, France spun RFF off from long-time national railway company SNCF. Seventeen years later, they're still apparently working out the kinks. Peter Weber
Assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, USC arrested in massive college basketball corruption case
The FBI arrested assistant basketball coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State, Southern California, and Auburn overnight on the charges of taking cash bribes "to deliver star athletes to a financial adviser or an agent," NBC News reports. Six other people were also charged, including a senior executive at Adidas, managers, and financial advisers.
One of the coaches, Chuck Person of Auburn University, played for 13 years in the NBA. Person stands accused of accepting approximately $50,000 "in return for his agreeing to direct certain of the school's players to [a particular] adviser when they entered the NBA," The New York Times reports. The adviser, who is unnamed in the complaint, is reportedly cooperating with the government.
Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, and Tony Bland of USC are also accused of accepting money to funnel certain players to specific agents. "Many … coaches have enormous influence over the student-athletes who play for them, in particular with respect to guiding those student-athletes through the process of selecting agents and other advisers when they prepare to leave college and enter the NBA," the complaint said, as reported by ESPN. "The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so."
Awaiting a press conference in New York where U.S. Attorney Joon Kim will break down the NCAA corruption schemes. The flow chart: pic.twitter.com/blEb2NGnoK
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) September 26, 2017
Additionally, Adidas' head of global sports marketing, James Gatto, stands accused of paying $100,000 to a family to send their son to what details indicate was the University of Louisville. The indictment "says contemporary news accounts described [the player's] college decision, announced this past June, as a surprise" and that "this summer, Louisville signed a 10-year, $160 million apparel contract with Adidas," the Times writes. Jeva Lange
The GOP plans to raise the lowest individual tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent while dropping the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, Axios reports, based on conversations with five senior Republicans.
The White House intends to sell the plan as a "tax cut" for the middle class by doubling the standard deduction, which will leave many people paying no taxes: "The standard deduction would almost double to $12,000 for a single filer and $24,000 for married couples, meaning Trump can accurately argue that many more low-income earners would pay no tax under his plan," Axios writes. The seven tax brackets would be collapsed down to three.
"We have a tax plan that is totally finalized," Trump boasted Sunday. "I think it'll be terrific. I think it's going to go through." While Trump will introduce the proposal in Indiana on Wednesday, he is expected to leave details intentionally vague so congressional tax-writing committees have the flexibility to negotiate and maneuver. Read the full scoop at Axios. Jeva Lange
A federal appeals court has overturned the 2015 corruption charges of former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R), 67, and his son, Adam Skelos, 33, due to the Supreme Court shrinking the scope of what constitutes as corruption last year, The New York Times reports.
According to the case laid out by prosecutors in 2015, the elder Skelos used his position to direct consulting payments to his son, ultimately amounting to roughly $300,000. Dean Skelos was sentenced to five years in prison in May 2016, and Adam was sentenced to more than six years.
Since the Skeloses' conviction, though, the Supreme Court "made it harder to prosecute public officials for corruption" when they overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in June 2016, The New York Times writes. "We identify charging error in light of McDonnell v. United States, which was decided after this case was tried," determined a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan. "Because we cannot conclude that the charging error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we are obliged to vacate the convictions."
The United States attorney's office is expected to retry the Skeloses. Jeva Lange
Americans' views on President Trump's tax reform proposals are split along predictably partisan lines, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll reports Tuesday, albeit with some noteworthy details.
A mere 7 percent of Democrats back Trump's plan compared to 60 percent of Republicans — a strong majority, but not an indicator of enthusiasm as dramatic as Democrats' distaste — and 29 percent of independents. In aggregate, just 28 percent of Americans support the plan. Another 44 percent oppose it, while 28 percent told pollsters they have no opinion, perhaps due to ongoing uncertainty as to what, exactly, the plan will change.
One point on which Americans can agree, however, is that middle and lower income earners deserve a tax break. Tax cuts for businesses receive greater support (45 percent) than those for the wealthy (33 percent), and corporate tax cuts are viewed most favorably, another survey published Monday noted, if they are cast as an opportunity for economic growth. Most of the Post/ABC poll respondents (51 percent) believe Trump's plan will cut income taxes for the rich, while a third say it will favor the middle class or treat both groups equally. Bonnie Kristian
The Department of Homeland Security announces intention to collect information about immigrants' social media accounts
The Department of Homeland Security has announced its intention to expand the sort of information it collects on immigrants, with "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" subject to be added to immigration files as soon as Oct. 18, BuzzFeed News reports. The new policy would apply to both green card holders and naturalized citizens.
The changes "will not only allow DHS to collect information about an immigrant's Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, but it also mentions all 'search results,'" Gizmodo writes. "It's not immediately clear if that means the agency will have access to things such as Google search histories nor is it clear how that would be obtained."
An additional consequence of the new policy is that everyone who interacts with immigrants on social media would also presumably be subject to having those conservations under surveillance, Gizmodo reports. What's more, social media surveillance has historically not proven to be a promising mode of vetting: "In cases of benefit denial, the denial was based on information found outside of social media," presidential transition documents by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services report.
The Brennan Center's co-director of liberty and national security, Faiza Patel, raised another concern to BuzzFeed News: "The question is, do we really want the government monitoring political views?" Patel said. "Social media may not be able to predict violence but it can certainly tell you a lot about a person's political and religious views." Read the full report at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange
By the time you read to the end of this post, another person in America will have been arrested on charges of marijuana possession. In fact, on average, U.S. law enforcement arrest one person for pot possession every single minute of every single day.
In 2016, that pace amounted to about 587,700 arrests for marijuana possession nationwide, The Washington Post reported Tuesday based on aggregate crime data released by the FBI Monday. That figure is larger than the combined total of arrests for all crimes the FBI places in the violent crimes category, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, some cases of arson, and aggravated assault.
That comparison becomes all the more remarkable in light of the fact that polling shows about six in 10 Americans support legalizing recreational pot use, and public opinion has been steadily trending toward legalization for years. That support rate is 71 percent among millennials, now the largest generation in the United States, and even a majority of Republican millennials (63 percent) support legalization. Bonnie Kristian
When President Trump issued a new travel ban on Sunday, he dropped Sudan from his old ban and added three new countries: Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad. Of those three, only Chad has a (barely) Muslim majority, and all three are odd picks. The ban mostly targets government officials in Venezuela, and North Korea doesn't let its citizens leave — making it hard to argue that either ban makes America safer from terrorists, Trump's rationale. And Africa experts are baffled as to why Trump included Chad, a Central African nation with a close military partnership with the U.S. and France and a strong track record of combating Islamic militants.
Chad seems puzzled, too, and upset. On Monday, Chad said it is "baffled" and "astonished" to be included in the ban, and it "invites President Donald Trump to reconsider this decision, which severely tarnishes the image of Chad, and the strong relationship between the two countries, particularly in the fight against terrorism." Trump's proclamation said that "Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information and fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion," but Africa experts said they doubt Chad is worse than its neighbors, especially Sudan, which is still on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"It makes no sense whatsoever. In fact I wonder if there wasn't some sort of mistake made," John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told BuzzFeed News. "It's an insult. What really gets to me is the apparent sheer stupidity of it." Brandon Kendhammer, a West Africa expert at Ohio University, said he bets "the ambassadors and AFRICOM are losing their minds right now." The decision is "totally nuts," he added. "This morning we were all like, 'What the hell is going on?'" "This makes no sense at all, even from a Trumpian standpoint," Reed Brody, a Human Rights Watch lawyer who has worked extensively in Chad, tells The New York Times.
Several analysts suggested that the lack of State Department and Pentagon experts may have contributed to the counterproductive decision. Trump hasn't even nominated 80 key State Department appointees, including the assistant secretary for African affairs, and the Pentagon is only 15 key positions confirmed out of 54. Peter Weber