In a striking sign that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) will part ways with his predecessor when it comes to law enforcement and civil liberties, the New York Police Department has terminated a controversial program that spied on the city's Muslim communities, reports The New York Times.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the NYPD used plainclothes officers to keep tabs on Muslim community leaders, mosques, and charities. Yet officers often had no reason to suspect their targets were guilty of any wrongdoing, prompting a fierce backlash — and multiple lawsuits — when the program was revealed in 2011. In filing a lawsuit against the NYPD last year, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that the program "operates under the unconstitutional premise that Muslim beliefs and practices are a basis for law enforcement scrutiny."
It's a familiar story by this point — a powerful lawmaker is accused of groping aides and making sexually inappropriate comments, denies the allegations, faces more corroborated accusations — but this time there's a little twist: She's a fairly prominent voice in the #MeToo movement, featured in Time's "The Silence Breakers" spread. After the second batch of allegations surfaced last week, California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) took voluntary unpaid leave while the state legislature investigates the sexual harassment allegations.
A California state lawmaker at the forefront of the "Me Too" movement faces a growing number of sexual misconduct allegations. Four former employees filed a formal complaint against Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. https://t.co/izP1UJ5TJX pic.twitter.com/zh0eqvXQoR
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 20, 2018
The first public allegation against Garcia was from Daniel Fierro, a former staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D), who told Politico that a visibly intoxicated Garcia groped his butt and reached for his crotch after an assembly softball game in 2014, when he was 25. Then, last Wednesday, four anonymous former staffers accused Garcia of talking graphically about her sex life at work (including with other lawmakers), drinking in the office, pressuring staff to drink with her, and constantly reminding them they were "replaceable."
One of those staffers, David John Kernick, a former field representative for Garcia, came forward Saturday with a complaint alleging that Garcia had fired him "after he questioned the appropriateness of her suggestion that after a fundraiser at a whiskey bar" in 2014 they "sit on the floor of her hotel room and play spin the bottle." Tim Reardon, who was Garcia's chief of staff in 2014, called the allegations a "complete falsehood," saying Kenrick was fired for poor work.
Garcia was among the hundreds of women in Sacramento to sign a letter protesting harassment at the California capitol, telling The New York Times that "multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts. ... We're talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers." On Monday, Garcia celebrated a new California law that penalizes lawmakers who retaliate against staffers for making a "good faith allegation," including of sexual misconduct. Peter Weber
The majority of Americans at the prime age to serve in the armed forces are actually ineligible due to obesity, health concerns, education, or criminal records, Politico reports. In total, almost three-quarters of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are not fit to serve, putting a damper on the Trump administration's plans to beef up the armed forces.
"The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers," a new Heritage Foundation paper on the concerns concludes. "Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives."
Easing recruiting standards has been in consideration, although many are opposed. "We lowered the standards [in 2009], we signed more waivers for people who had acts of criminality than we usually did," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr. "We paid the price … The last place that we would go is to mess with the standards."
Still, even Spoehr notes that "obesity and the percentage of people overweight in the country has just skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years. Asthma is going up. High school graduation rates are still just barely acceptable and in some big cities they are miserable. Criminality is also not going away. We have to face the reality that these things in some cases are getting worse, not better."
That is to say nothing of the of the waning interest in joining the military. "Many of today's youth are not inclined to want to leave their family and friends," said United States Army Recruitment Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Bowers, as reported by Army Times. "Family and friends, they oppose them joining the military service." Jeva Lange
Russian bots took advantage of America's divisions over gun control and the Second Amendment within an hour of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week, The New York Times reports.
After initial reports of the attack, hundreds of posts from Twitter accounts linked to Russia ignited rumors that the suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had Googled Arabic phrases before the attack. The accounts also jumped on hashtags like #Parklandshooting, #AR15, and #NRA while other bots pushed for #guncontrolnow and #gunreformnow. "This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this," explained New Knowledge's Jonathon Morgan, who works to track disinformation campaigns. "The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically."
The bots used similar tactics during the presidential election, pushing support for Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders and stoking Islamophobia and debates over immigration. The strategy appears to involve nudging ideas that would otherwise remain on the fringes "slightly more mainstream," Morgan added.
The Russia-linked accounts that jumped on the Parkland shooting have since moved on to the hashtag #falseflag, pushing a conspiracy theory that the shooting never took place. The bots are "going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration," explained media professor Karen North. "It just heightens that frustration and anger." Jeva Lange
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won ice-dancing gold, and Leslie Jones and Adam Rippon can't handle it
There were a lot of stories wrapped into the ice dancing finals on Tuesday at the Winter Olympics in South Korea: French couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron scored a record-high 123.35 in their free dance, winning the silver medal despite Papadakis' live wardrobe malfunction during Monday's short program; American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani took the bronze, beating U.S. national champs Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue while the third U.S. pair, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, dropped to ninth place after a fall in Tuesday's long program; and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had a stunning performance to hang on for the gold, adding their second gold medal this year and third ever (they also won two silvers in the 2014 Sochi Games).
Virtue and Moir's ice dance elicited microphone-distorting shrieks from Olympics super-fan and NBC Olympics analyst Leslie Jones. She was joined by on-again, off-again NBC commentator Adam Rippon, who won a bronze in team figure skating earlier this Olympics, and Scott Hamilton, and they all seemed to be having a fine time with their color commentary.
"Are they getting in trouble for how sexy they are?"@lesdoggg and @adaripp commentating on @tessavirtue and @scottmoir's short dance is everything we could have ever wanted. AND MORE. #WinterOlympics https://t.co/fmMl0C4Amf pic.twitter.com/ykkNvv7L5p
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2018
"Every outfit she's put on, I want to wear to the club," Jones said of Virtue. "Steamy," said Rippon, and Jones concurred: "Are they getting in trouble for how sexy they are?" And to answer Jones' question, which is apparently a pretty common one, no, Virtue and Moir don't appear to be dating. Peter Weber
This is the Putin-Trump SNL skit Rex Tillerson said made him LOL, in an oddly frank 60 Minutes interview
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has mostly steered clear of the news media, but he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CBS News foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, which aired on 60 Minutes Sunday night. Tillerson spoke about the challenges dealing with North Korea, declined again to "dignify the question" of whether he called President Trump a "moron," and insisted that "there's been no dismantling at all of the State Department," despite 41 empty ambassadorships and numerous vacancies at the top of the department. He also talked about his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a top executive at ExxonMobil.
"You've said you had a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin," Brennan said. "You've done huge deals with him. Photos of you toasting him with champagne. And all that closeness raised eyebrows. It even inspired a Saturday Night Live skit. Did you ever see that skit?" Tillerson said yes, "my kids pointed me to it," and "I laughed out loud."
The SNL skit, with John Goodman playing Tillerson, made light of "this concern that you have a friendship with Vladimir Putin, and that because of that, you and the president aren't going to hold him to account," Brennan pointed out. "The relationship that I had with President Putin spans 18 years now. It was always about 'What could I do to be successful on behalf of my shareholders, how Russia could succeed,'" he responded. When he walked in to meet Putin as secretary of state, Tillerson said, "the only thing I said to him was 'Mr. President, same man, different hat.'"
"I said to him, 'I now represent the American people,'" Tillerson said of his Putin meeting, when asked to elaborate. "And I think it was important that that be said right up front. And he clearly got, I mean, he clearly understood that as well." You can read and watch the entire interview at 60 Minutes. Peter Weber
Teacher killed during the Parkland mass shooting told his fiancée what to do if here were shot at school
Scott Beigel, one of the three teachers and coaches shot dead in last week's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, was buried Sunday. During his funeral at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, his fiancée, Gwen Gossler, recounted a story about when she and Beigel were watching TV coverage of a previous school shooting. "Promise me if this ever happens to me, you will tell them the truth — tell them what a jerk I am, don't talk about the hero stuff," she recalled Beigel telling her, according to the New York Post. "Okay, Scott, I did what you asked," she added. "Now I can tell the truth. You are an amazingly special person. You are my first love and my soulmate."
Beigel, 35, was a geography teacher and cross country coach, and he was shot by the gunman while trying to protect students by locking them in his classroom. "He unlocked the door and let us in," student Kelsey Friend told ABC News. "I had thought he was behind me, but he wasn't. When he opened the door, he had to relock it so we could stay safe, but he didn't get the chance to. ... If the shooter had come in the room, I probably wouldn't be [alive]." Beigel "was my hero and he will forever be my hero," Friend told CNN. Sixteen other people were killed and 15 wounded in the mass shooting.
Beigel wasn't alone in contemplating being a human shield. "Across the country, teachers are grappling with how their roles have expanded, from educator and counselor to bodyguard and protector," The New York Times reports. "Last night I told my wife I would take a bullet for the kids," Robert Parish, a teacher at an elementary school just miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, told a union hall crowded with Broward County teachers on Saturday. Since the shooting, "I think about it all the time." Peter Weber
When Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Paul Manafort with financial crimes and conspiracy against the U.S. last fall, the indictment said that President Trump's former campaign chairman laundered $18 million and used the untaxed income to support his lavish lifestyle. But actually, "federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in 'suspicious' financial transactions to and from companies controlled by" Manafort, most of them flagged during an unsuccessful anti-kleptocracy effort in 2014 and 2015, BuzzFeed News reports.
The previous legwork by the FBI and Treasury Department's financial crimes unit "explains how the special counsel was able to swiftly bring charges against Manafort for complex financial crimes dating as far back as 2008," BuzzFeed says, "and it shows that Mueller could still wield immense leverage as he seeks to compel Manafort to cooperate in the ongoing investigation," as erstwhile partner Rick Gates appears to be doing. The FBI interviewed Manafort in 2014, but Justice Department leaders reportedly decided Manafort's apparent financial fraud was small potatoes compared with that of his longtime client Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. "We had him in 2014," one former official said of Manafort. "In hindsight, we could have nailed him then."
From 2004 and 2014, eight banks filed 23 "suspicious activity reports" on accounts controlled by Manafort, and among those not included in Mueller's indictment are $5 million to and from Puerto Rican firm Maho Films Investment Co., where Manafort was one of two directors, and several smaller transactions that fraud investigators suspected might be pitched to avoid automatic fraud alerts, including two back-to-back $7,500 ATM withdrawals and an odd spending spree at a drug store: Officials at Wachovia "flagged $25,000 in 'fraudulent charges' at Duane Reade stores in New York City in September 2007," BuzzFeed reports. "Bank officials said the debit card was in Manafort's possession during that time." Read more about Manafort's financial history at BuzzFeed News. Peter Weber