College Admissions: Don’t Punish Us Because a Few Cheated

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When faced with a scandal, the natural reaction is not just to fix the problem, but also to ensure it never happens again. The trouble is that scandal rarely produces smart policy. In fact, overzealous reform often ends up swinging the pendulum too far the other way.

For the latest example of this, look at the college admissions controversy. By now, you’ve no doubt heard of scam mastermind Rick Singer’s famous trick: Get students to fake a medical condition, thus allowing them more time to complete the SAT or ACT.

Those who truly need accommodations will now live under a shadow of suspicion. That’s the real outrage.

Put aside the lawbreaking sense of entitlement and focus on this heartbreaking fact: Those who truly need accommodations will now live under a shadow of suspicion. That’s the real outrage.

Some say the solution is to make it harder to obtain such testing allowances. Already, the chorus to make testing optional is growing louder and louder. I sympathize with these arguments, but as a high school junior currently preparing for the SAT, I have a different perspective. 

Before we overhaul the system, we should pause and consider how well it’s actually working. Take it from me, someone who’s had a documented learning disability since I was 4 (yes, 4 — not a month before test time): The process to get extra time is already pretty difficult.

 

Ever hear of “psychoeducational testing”? That’s what you must undergo if you claim a learning disability. First, you need to find a specialist and submit to a series of evaluations. Then your doctor needs to deliver a report. A favorable ruling isn’t a given: Even if your private therapist attests to a variety of challenges, your school may still deny your request.

Even if you are “approved,” that’s just for while at school, not necessarily for the SAT. Sometimes, the College Board requires that you complete even more paperwork. Matthew Cortland, a Massachusetts-based disability-rights lawyer, has called the accommodation-seeking process “very adversarial.”  

Then there’s the cost. Typical fees for an assessment can cost thousands, which is far too much for something so essential. While public schools are required to provide free testing, many parents prefer to hire a specialist who has the time to treat their child with the individualized care and attention they need. 

Finally, let’s remember that the parents who teamed up with Singer weren’t typical. They were rich. They were famous. And they were blatantly cheating. Again, not the best template for making changes that will affect millions of students. 

Pupils whose hearts beat a mile a minute at the thought of reading aloud, or students who have to study twice as hard to do half as well, already have a lot on their plates. Every day, they deal with a difference that makes them stand out.

I know these feelings all too well because I am that student.

And so, on behalf of all my peers from K through 12 who don’t process information in a straight and narrow way, I offer this: Don’t make our ability to learn and grow and thrive even harder than it already is. Don’t chip away at the help we depend on. Don’t punish us all for the crimes of a few.

Anna Sophia Lotman is a junior at the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, a high school in Santa Monica, California.

How Emperor Akihito Brought Japan Into the Future

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In the shrinking global community of royal families, the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne stands out as the oldest continuing monarchy in the world — and one of the most volatile in modern history. Citing his declining health, 85-year-old Emperor Akihito, whose reign began in 1989 upon the death of his father, Hirohito, steps down on April 30 in favor of his son Naruhito, the first abdication of the Japanese throne since 1817. While his willful decision to abdicate is remarkable, there is little about Akihito’s life that has precedent in Japanese history.

The story of the Japanese monarchy as we know it today begins in the 19th century when the Meiji Restoration brought an end to the Samurai-led feudal system of Japan in favor of a centralized Western style of governance. That restored a greater share of power to the emperor, a position that had for centuries been a mere figurehead occupation. According to John Dower, professor emeritus of Japanese History at MIT, Japan’s Meiji-era reformers “noted that powerful Western nations used God as a centralizing and legitimizing mystique — and that, lacking such a religious pivot, Japan could make the emperor and imperial dynasty play essentially the same role.” Japanese nationalists ultimately chose to turn to myth, placing the foundation of Japan at 660 B.C. by Jimmu — supposedly a direct descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess — an invented tradition that has today become widely accepted as fact. 

Rejecting his father’s reclusive and purely ceremonial style of rule, Akihito worked within his constitutional limits to heal the wounds of the Second World War both within Japan and with its former enemies.

As the 20th century unfolded, Japan aggressively expanded in the name of its divine emperors, acquiring a vast overseas empire encompassing Korea, Taiwan, Sakhalin and Manchuria. Akihito’s father, Hirohito, whose rule began in 1926, oversaw Japan’s most violent phase of expansion — leading Japan into World War II, when the Japanese Empire expanded even further to occupy an area stretching from Burma to the Aleutian Islands before collapsing in the face of a Soviet declaration of war and American nuclear weapons. The disastrous war not only decimated the Japanese population, landscape and economy but also saw Japan committing egregious war crimes against the nations that it had occupied, particularly China, Korea and the Philippines. Akihito’s father gave his tacit approval to Japanese aggression during the conflict, though he was never tried for his crimes — nor did he ever apologize for them. When the United States began its seven-year occupation of Japan in 1945, the role of the emperor was dramatically changed again.

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Japanese Emperor Hirohito (center) poses with the Imperial family, including his wife, Empress Nagako (seated at left).

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While many expected him to abdicate, Hirohito’s continued rule was ensured by the American occupational authorities, who, in the interest of stabilizing Japanese society in order to fight communist influence, saw the monarchy as a useful tool to rebuild Japan. Provisions were made instead for Hirohito to transition into a British-style figurehead monarch, provided he give up his claim of divinity, with no authority to make decisions on matters of governance. With the blame for Japanese war crimes firmly placed elsewhere, Hirohito continued to rule until his death in 1989 at age 87, making frequent public appearances and continuing his passion for marine biology research. The presence of such a controversial figure on the throne caused significant disquiet at home and abroad — and with Hirohito’s tight-lipped policy in regard to both his own conduct as well as Japan’s during the war, Japanese relations with its neighbors failed to heal.

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Emperor Akihito is seen here in a full ceremonial outfit before his enthronement in 1990.

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Akihito, already in his 50s by the time his rule began, emerged as what Dower describes as “one of the most sincere and influential Japanese voices” endorsing peace and democracy in a postwar world. Rejecting his father’s reclusive and purely ceremonial style of rule, Akihito worked within his constitutional limits to heal the wounds of the Second World War both within Japan and with its former enemies. Following an apology made just months after his, in 1992, Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to visit China — a visit in which he stressed his revulsion at the violence that Japan inflicted upon China in the name of his father. Akihito made similar conciliatory gestures toward Korea as well, apologizing for Japan’s long colonial occupation of Korea and even acknowledging the existence of Korean heritage in the Japanese imperial family, an extremely taboo subject in nationalist Japan.

Further significant conciliatory visits were made in 2005 to Saipan, an American overseas territory, and the Philippines in 2016. During every visit, Akihito has never shied away from using his apologetic language — a stance that’s earned him the ire of conservative critics in Japan, who believe Japan has no need to apologize for its wartime conduct. Akihito’s apologies have also been met with bemusement in countries like the United Kingdom, where former British WWII POWs famously turned their backs on him during a visit, or South Korea, which recently referred to Akihito as merely “the son of the main culprit of war crimes.”

 

His critics aside, Akihito’s remarkable reign will be remembered fondly by many in Japan — which, being the country with the most centenarians in the world, has a comparatively large population that still remembers the horrors of the World War II. That Naruhito, 59, will inherit a Japan that is more at ease with its legacy both at home and with the global community is in large part thanks to the efforts of his father.

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are greeted by people upon their arrival at the Kensei Kinenkan to attend the awards ceremony of the Midori Academic Prize in Tokyo last week.

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Still, it is hard to foresee what sort of role he will be able to play in a rapidly changing Japan. While the emperor’s role of a divine ruler is long over, according to Dower, “to Prime Minister Abe and his conservative cohort, the emperor is still the linchpin to maintaining a mystique of racial purity, paternalism and a unique sort of blood nationalism.” Naruhito’s role as an emperor may now be ceremonial, but it still carries great responsibility.

The Death-Defying Activist Standing in the Way of a $4.5 Billion Dam

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Ten days after one of Colombia’s most important rivers nearly dried out, hundreds of people gathered in front of the headquarters of the public utility Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), blocked the road and threw dead fish on the steps, chanting, “EPM murdered the Rio Cauca.”

The company behind Colombia’s largest-ever hydroelectric dam project, long mired in corruption and mismanagement, had been forced to stop the flow of the river and flood the machine room to ensure that the dam would not collapse, sending a tidal wave from the center of Colombia to the Caribbean coast that would displace thousands and kill hundreds. The likely culprit was a design change executed without regulators’ approval.

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Isabel Zuleta speaks at a protest in front of EPM in February.

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Isabel Zuleta, a founder and the face of advocacy group Rios Vivos Antioquia, harnessed the anger over the $4.5 billion (at least) Ituango Dam project as she climbed the steps with a megaphone and drove the crowd to a fervor. “They don’t know what a river is. They say you only need to return the water and nothing has happened — lies,” Zuleta said indignantly to the roaring crowd in February. “The water is dead.”

Downstream, the people are displaced by death. 

Isabel Zuleta

Her own life too is on the line.

For taking on powerful interests in government and industry, Zuleta, 37, has seen colleagues murdered, faced death threats herself and was nearly kidnapped in 2015 (thankfully her bus arrived late and after the would-be abductors showed up). She now has bodyguards who follow her when she leaves the house. They’re provided by the government, which funds protection for some social leaders who receive death threats. At her home in a tree-shrouded bohemian neighborhood in Medellín, she jokes that her security system is her two large dogs.

Zuleta says she never imagined the danger her activism would put her and her colleagues in when she started Rios Vivos Antioquia in 2008 while studying sociology at the University of Antioquia. “I thought the worst thing that could happen is that nobody would listen to us.”

 

Zuleta is from the town of Puerto Valdivia, which remains on red alert for heavy flooding with a cautionary evacuation of more than 1,000 families, and is seeing paramilitary groups take advantage of the ghost town atmosphere. She grew up with a deep and complicated relationship with the 800-mile Cauca River, which “has always signified a lot of pain, but also happiness.” Armed groups dumped bodies in the river during Colombia’s decadeslong civil war. Paramilitaries used it as a blockade point to prevent food from entering the area to starve out guerrillas, who had firm control of the area.

At the same time, many river communities are made up of displaced persons from other regions who came for the abundance of food and land that was difficult but secure. For the single women whose husbands had been killed, it was a place of spiritual refuge.

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The dam of the Hidroituango hydroelectric project on Colombia’s Cauca River.

“The first thing we did every day was greet the river and the macaws,” says Maria Cecilia Muriel. “We had riches, an ancestral way of living. Now we are in ruin.” Cecilia, a member of Rios Vivos Antioquia who works closely with Zuleta, was forced to leave Puerto Valdivia and continues to face challenges in returning. Cecilia calls Zuleta a “grand human being and a great leader” who “could guide us, especially on the legal part,” as she taught the group how to make public reports of wrongdoing, participate in forums and bring attention to the cause.

More than 85,000 fish were killed in the days that the river’s flow was blocked, according to EPM statistics, sapping a crucial source of sustenance and livelihood from downstream communities. And activists say the damage to the overall ecosystem, microorganisms in the water and surrounding foliage cannot be calculated merely by counting fish. A mass migration could be on the way.

“Downstream, the people are displaced by death,” Zuleta says. “Life has been suspended. Like the river, it has lost its velocity. … Who is going to attend to the thousands of fishermen who have had to see the death of their culture, their sustenance, their children without food?”

 

Zuleta’s inflammatory and eloquent style has made her a media darling and a hero to young environmentalists across the region who followed her around asking for selfies at the protest. “I share her beliefs, but I haven’t been able to dedicate my life to the defense of the environment,” says Ricardo Franco, a biology student at the University of Antioquia. “Her time, her life, she is taking a big risk for this.”

Indeed, four members of Rios Vivos Antioquia and six of their family members have been killed. No one has been charged in their deaths.

A Global Witness investigation found that Colombia is consistently in the top three murder rates of environmental defenders globally and that they are killed largely with impunity: 92 percent of murders of land defenders and environmentalists between 2010 and 2016 went unsolved.

The dam, which has been discussed since the 1980s and broke ground in 2011, is supposed to add 17 percent more capacity to Colombia’s power grid, via 2,400 megawatts of climate-friendly electricity. Proponents of the project have long argued that such a boost to the grid justified some costs to river communities and the environment, though the price has become much higher than initially estimated. (Puerto Valdivia was not even included as an impacted community in the initial studies.) Now it’s unclear whether the dam will ever power a single light bulb.

EPM representatives have stated they are still optimistic about the future of the project and believe that the ecological impact is reversible. “The country cannot think that projects can be undertaken without there being some risks that at times materialize. Unfortunately, here this risk materialized,” EPM manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta told El Nuevo Siglo newspaper at the end of February. EPM has not spoken directly with Rios Vivos Antioquia. “It has been part of their strategy to nullify the existence of an opposition movement,” Zuleta says.

The Colombian prosecutor general released a scathing report in April, finding that mismanagement of the project is threatening life in the area and ordering EPM to take action on escalating emergencies. For example, the river’s slower speed above the dam has allowed the invasive hyacinth plant to spread, choking out other river life. As the river flows northward, the water is filtered by the dam, damaging biodiversity. “The situation affects the population of fish, in quality, length, meat and in reproduction,” the report states, damaging “the food security and principal economic activity” of 60,000 locals.

Zuleta, for her part, wants EPM to offer individualized reparations to each affected villager. Rios Vivos Antioquia is fighting multiple legal battles, but Zuleta sees her group’s greatest triumph as how well it has organized the community to create solidarity along the river. 

Zuleta works full time on fighting the dam, which often results in frantic multitasking. Even during our interview, she seamlessly juggled handing in legal documents around the city, taking phone calls to plan an event and telling me about the time she was almost kidnapped. Apart from continuing the movement, she dreams of living in a sustainable agro-ecological community.

For now, she is demanding that EPM make all information relating to the project public immediately, and for an independent group to go and physically verify the data.

“The uncertainty and angst must end,” she says. “We need to know if this is going to kill us.” 

Read more: Colombia’s hip-hop gardener fuels a green resistance.

Clarification: There are two organizations called Rios Vivos in Colombia. An earlier version of the story did not specify that Isabel Zuleta founded Rios Vivos Antioquia.

Can Texas Put American High-Speed Trains Back on the Rails?

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When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in February that the state was putting on hold plans for a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it seemed like the latest nail in the coffin for superfast trains in America. The country’s fastest train, Amtrak’s Acela Express, reaches 150 mph, well below the 160-mph mark at which trains are considered high-speed in Europe, Japan and China. But a project in Texas is offering an alternative model that’s at the heart of a quiet revival of high-speed rail plans.

The Texas Central Railway, a private firm, could as soon as later this year break ground on the nation’s first high-speed train, connecting Houston to Dallas — a route with similar population density to the Los Angeles–San Francisco corridor. The train, with a speed expected to top 200 mph, will cut travel time between the two cities to under 90 minutes, compared to the three-and-a-half-hour drive required today. What’s making supporters optimistic about success is that, unlike past efforts, the project is financed entirely by investors employing a market-led approach to infrastructure construction. No state or federal grants are involved.

That approach is inspiring other projects too. Last September, Virgin Trains announced the ownership of a federally approved rail corridor called “XpressWest” between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where it plans to develop America’s second high-speed train line, Ben Porritt, the firm’s senior vice president for corporate affairs confirmed. The company is also actively exploring a dozen other routes across the nation, including St. Louis to Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, contingent on the success of its upcoming project.

Because of the current political dynamic, we are in a sweet spot.

Holly Reed, managing director, Texas Central Railway

The model is catching on beyond what is strictly considered high-speed trains. Earlier this year, the Brightline, backed by Fortress Investment Group, launched between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida, reducing a two-hour journey down to just one hour. The route will get an extension to Orlando and possibly to Tampa. While its maximum speed of 125 mph is below the 160 mph mark for high-speed trains, the Florida route is still the second fastest in the U.S. alongside three other lines in the Northeast.  

This private funding strategy is attractive to fiscal conservatives who consistently advocate for less government intervention. At the same time, it’s appealing to liberals arguing for environmentally friendly transportation options. High-speed trains are a key component of the Green New Deal authored by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues. 

 

“High-speed train will be the best solution to meet the demands between these two cities,” says Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central Railway, speaking of the Houston-Dallas route. “Because of the current political dynamic, we are in a sweet spot to set the bar for what high-speed rail will look like in the United States for decades to come.”

To Noah Sayres, owner of the cannabis tech startup BudBuddy who often travels between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Newsom’s February announcement is illustrative of broader problems with California’s approach. With public-funded projects, every tiny town in the middle of a route like Los Angeles-San Francisco is able to lobby for a stop, hoping to generate economic activity for its residents. That, he says, makes the route “absurdly inefficient, to the point where it would take almost as long to drive as it would to take the train.” There’s also the question of public spending priorities — Newsom said the $77 billion line between Los Angeles and San Francisco would “cost too much” and “take too long.” It was estimated to be ready only by 2033, 13 years behind schedule. For now, California is continuing with the construction of a smaller 119 mile Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield stretch, says Melissa Figueroa, deputy secretary for communications and strategic planning at the California State Transportation Agency. The state, she says, is still trying to secure additional funding and clearances to support the entire 520 mile Los Angeles-San Francisco stretch. 

The private firms leading the fresh charge on high-speed rails have learned from California. The Texas project, for instance, will include just one stop between Houston and Dallas, and will use Japan’s latest technology, the N700-I high-speed train system that runs between Tokyo and Osaka. The entire system will cost $12 billion and will connect at both ends with local train networks. 

All previous high-speed rail projects in the U.S. have been led by government entities or public-private partnerships. This includes the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority, created by the state legislature in the 1990s to set up a system called the Texas TGV, which collapsed after failing to meet a financial deadline under pressure from both public and private entities. Conservative leaders ultimately prioritized roads over rail. 

Nationally some Republicans continue to rally against high-speed rail projects. Florida Sen. Rick Scott has accused the Green New Deal’s focus on transportation alternatives as “working toward ending air travel” — a charge the deal’s proponents reject. As governor in 2010, Scott had rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus, shattering the hopes of connecting Miami, Orlando and Tampa via high-speed rail. Some private players developing these high-speed rail projects have also faced challenges. Virgin Trains was in 2018 rated the U.K.’s worst rail operator after recording more cancellations and serious delays than any other competitor. And Brightline’s inability to go faster than 125 mph in Florida points to the challenges of unleashing high-speed trains on infrastructure-dense routes: a factor that has also limited speeds in the northeast.  

But the private model is drawing levels of bipartisan support previous high-speed rail projects couldn’t attract. In April, a bipartisan group of 10 members of Congress from Texas wrote letters of support for the state’s project to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. The liberal municipal governments of Houston and Dallas have backed the initiative. Such trains can also prove remarkably energy-efficient. The Texas train will expend one-twelfth of the carbon dioxide as a Boeing 777-200 — while carrying roughly the same number of passengers. And “along with the benefits to the environment, you’d get to look at the countryside, which should appeal to any Texas patriot,” says environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of environmental advocacy group 350.org.  

Some airliners have long seen high-speed rail projects as potential partners rather than adversaries, say industry players. Both Continental Airlines — before its merger with United — and American Airlines were members of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., a nonprofit that later morphed into Texas Central Railway. According to Jay Crossley, executive director of Farm & City, a sustainable development nonprofit, Continental hosted the first-ever meeting for the Texas project at its downtown Houston headquarters in the mid-2000s. Crossley, who attended the meeting, says the airline was exploring code-share relationships. “Today you can buy a ticket on Air France that takes you to Paris and then a high-speed rail train to wherever you’re going — and the airlines … would be happy to be in that business,” says Crossley. A code-share would allow the airline to earn revenue from ticket sales while freeing up gate space and aircraft for long-haul routes that make them more money. On the Dallas-Houston route, for instance, 90 percent of the 16 million annual trips are by road, not by plane.  

This potential of the privately funded model to serve as a win-win option for high-speed rail networks in America is something Virgin Trains nodded to in February. The railroad company stepped back from a planned $538 million initial public offering, instead finding alternative private funding.

If this model of privately funded high-speed rail projects succeeds, it could set a template for other infrastructure projects trapped in wrangling over funding between liberals and conservatives. It could also show what bipartisan politics can really look like outside of the Beltway.

New Delhi’s Tinder Tales of Terror

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“I promise I’ll never ever do anything without your explicit consent.”

The speaker? A charming 29-year-old wordsmith. I was unemployed, and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I was craving affection, love and sexual intimacy, and above all, I wanted to escape from my dreary life. It was a Saturday afternoon when we met. Online. Then, after a few witty exchanges: “How far down the rabbit hole would you like to go?”

“All the way with the RIGHT person,” I wrote. “If we were ever to meet, what kind of events would unfold in your imagination?”

“Oh, there’s no end to the imaginings of how and what events would unfold if we were ever to meet. The question is, would you like to meet?”

“Yes, with a pepper spray. :P,” I wrote.

And after a little more back-and-forth, I surrendered to his charm. He said he’d buy my plane ticket to New Delhi. I was hesitant at first. I was afraid he might stand me up, or we might not click in person. But I had to give it a shot, and so in less than 48 hours I was in his arms.

He was nervous when he came to pick me up at the airport, and even when he took me to the hotel he’d booked for us. As luck would have it, the hotel was closed, so after wasting almost another hour looking for another hotel, we finally got one. I couldn’t wait to get in. 

He then went on to tell me that after he was raped by his domestic maid, he started enjoying it. I was baffled.

As soon as the door closed, I fell on the bed; it was a morning flight and I hadn’t slept much. I proceeded to get in his arms to break the ice and then closed my eyes. After a minute or two, I opened my eyes and kissed him. He kissed me back and then took me to a nearby restaurant to have food.

After a couple of drinks, he opened up, and he was even wittier in person. He talked about pop culture, food, art, TV series, politics, his family, Delhi, Bombay, whatever. I was taken by him. He was a journalist.

As evening set in, we went back to the hotel, and then he gave me two amazing hours of cunnilingus. As the night came, we snuggled next to each other and he showed me videos of John Oliver. I felt safe and happy with him. Even though he seemed too good to be true, all sense of rationality had left me. I was infatuated.

 

At night, we kissed and took off our clothes. Before I knew it, he was on top of me. We went on kissing, and then he tried to penetrate me without a condom.

I had a lot of anxiety regarding penetrative sex because of a past sexual assault by one man and emotional abuse and gaslighting by another. I’d told him in our messages that I wanted condoms (when he told me that he was a whore). That breach of trust triggered my anxiety regarding sex.

I went into semi-shock. Prior to this, we were cuddling in the dark and he said that he wanted us to be exclusive. “Am I just another guy whom you would fuck and forget? I haven’t felt this for a long time,” he said. “I didn’t think I could feel this again. I don’t want you to be with anyone when you go back. If we fuck anyone, we fuck together.”

And then, he tried to penetrate me without a condom.

Throughout the night, he tried. I drifted in and out of sleep and tried to push him away. He made puppy faces. I kept saying no. I said, “Let’s wait.” Eventually, when it was early morning, he fell asleep.

I was here, moneyless in the capital notorious for rape, and I was at his mercy.

The next day, everything was sort of normal in the morning but by evening it all went downhill again. I felt guilty that we didn’t have penetrative sex the night before, so I told him to bring out the toys he had brought. Out came the baby girl dress, the ball gag and the handcuffs, among other things.

I tried on the baby girl dress. I loved it. He went out to get stuff and told me to lie down. He came back, blindfolded me and asked me to drink something. My trust in him was already shaken because of the previous night, so I told him that I didn’t want the blindfold.

He asked me to talk about my past, I guess to figure out why I wasn’t having sex with him.

I got triggered, again, because it was painful to recall my dysfunctional childhood and an emotionally abusive relationship with a lover. After listening to everything, including a suicide attempt by a family member, he joked about it.

I lost my temper. He told me to “move on” and not pass my emotional baggage on to him.

This was both funny and shocking to me because when he was hinting at wanting to start a relationship, I’d blatantly told him that I have a lot of emotional baggage and my partner will probably have to bear the brunt of it. He had pretended to empathize. And now he mocked me and asked me if I thought he was a psychopath? He then went on to tell me that after he was raped by his domestic maid, he started enjoying it. I was baffled: Should I also enjoy sexual assault because he thinks joking about it is an effective defense mechanism?

But I was here, moneyless in the capital notorious for rape, and at his mercy. I couldn’t afford to spend the money that I had, it was my only savings. On top of that, he started to control the temperature of the air conditioner, knowing that I was cold. I tried to get closer to him, to sort out our issues. He pushed me away.

The next morning he told me he’d go to work, and then take me to his home, and the next day I would be back home.

Later, he texted me that work had come up and he had to leave the city. He said he’d reimburse me once his company reimbursed him. I was devastated because my intuition told me he was going to stiff me. I went to the airport though and booked a flight. The price was just a few bucks under all of my savings.

But I went back to my apartment and downplayed the entire incident when my flatmates asked me how it was. And a week later, he blocked me on the site where we met. 

Indrani Sarkar is a pseudonym used to protect the writer’s identity.

Pet Lovers Reel in Treats Made of Flying Fish

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Asian carp may be aquatic creatures, but this doesn’t stop them from flying. Well, actually, they launch themselves out of the Mississippi River and Illinois waterways and straight into fishing boats — and the faces of unlucky fishermen. The invasive species can measure up to 5 feet and weigh up to 100 pounds, and their heads are rock hard to the touch. That’s like being hit with more than a dozen bricks.

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Lesley Pahs feeds her black lab mix Opa these treats for their anti-inflammatory properties.

Source Courtesy of Michael Cody

Breaking jaws isn’t their only danger. Asian carp — introduced in the Midwest in the 1960s as a solution for algae overgrowth — are fast-breeding, have hearty appetites (they eat 40 to 80 percent of their body weight each day) and are starting to eliminate native species. Plus, as they continue to rapidly spread throughout the Midwest’s natural water sources, they “have the potential to disrupt food webs on the Great Lakes, impacting the $7 billion annual fishing economy,” says Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates.

Efforts to stop the invasion have included commercial fishing for human consumption (which hasn’t taken off yet, despite many efforts) and blocking canals, but one company has launched a one-of-a-kind solution. Founded in 2015 by their self-described “(not as furry) team,” Michael Cody and Logan Honeycutt, BareItAll Petfoods churns the catapulting fish into pet treats. 

The pair were longtime friends and pet owners who also had studied the invasive species in an academic capacity. Both were ready to start a new venture, and during a fishing trip when they saw Asian carp destruction firsthand, it clicked. “It’s a delicious fish, but it does have that negative connotation. We figured pets were not nearly as picky,” says Cody. It’s high in omega-3s and protein, and unlike other sources of aquatic protein, doesn’t contain mercury. Forester, who has tried the fish, describes it as “flaky and firm.”

[The Fillet Bits] are intended for cats but, “dogs go crazy for all the cat treats.” 

Michael Cody, BareItAll Petfoods co-founder 

In 2015, BareItAll Petfoods — a name that reflects the company’s aim of being transparent about product ingredients –- was born and debuted its first dog treat, the goBARE Crunchers ($9.99). While Cody explains it “took a few iterations to get the formula right,” people really liked the concept from the start, and around 10,000 packages sold in the first few months. Next, they expanded to other dog and cat treats with names like Nibblers, Crisps and River Bites. Some are plain carp and others have additional ingredients, and some are baked and others are freeze-dried. The most popular treat is the Fillet Bits, morsels of freeze-dried Asian carp. They’re intended for cats but, “dogs go crazy for all the cat treats,” says Cody. Plus, if the furry friends’ owners get hungry, the Fillet Bits taste the most like human food — at least according to Cody who has tried them all.

 

BareItAll sources their carp from fishermen directly and a nonprofit called Silver Fin Solutions and combines it with other ingredients like blueberries and sweet potatoes. They go by what Cody calls the pantry principle: “If it’s not something we’d find in our own home we wouldn’t put it in our dog treats,” Cody explains. 

Lesley Pahs, who lives in Cincinnati, likes that the snacks are made with natural ingredients. Her dog Opa, an elderly black Lab mix, has joint issues. Pahs likes to give him the fishy treats because of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s. “Lord only knows what’s in the stuff at the pet store,” she says. Opa can’t pick a favorite, so Pahs orders him the snack pack ($26.99) of all three dog treats.

So, will feeding your animal Asian carp treats really reduce the infestation? Forester says the best solution is a combination of efforts, and “starting with pet food is a great way to introduce the idea of using carp for protein.” Since BareItAll began they’ve been able to remove about 100,000 pounds of the fish. There were an estimated 3.1 million pounds of Asian carp in the lower reaches of the Illinois River alone in 2016, according to federal estimates. 

Eradicating the Asian carp problem is a “pipe dream,” according to some researchers. Still, finding ways to eat the problem is a step in the right direction. “Every carp that is removed decreases the number of carp that are migrating upstream to Minnesota’s waters, and we are grateful,” says Forester.  

And if fewer flying fish mean more dog and cat treats? That can’t be a bad thing, right?  

Watch Asian carp fling themselves at fishermen in the Illinois River:

More: BareItAll Petfoods

  • How to buy: The treats are sold in locations across Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — including shops like Hollywood Feed, whose store locations often coincide with Asian carp infestation areas. There’s also an online shop.
  • Cost: Prices range from $6.99 to $11.99 for a package, depending on the type. A goBARE snack pack of three retails for $26.99. BareItAll also partners with various animal welfare nonprofits and donates a portion of their profits. 
  • Learn more about Asian carp: The Asian Carp Newsroom gives updates on legislation, prevention and progress.

Special Briefing: Spanish Voters Lean Left … and to the Far-Right

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This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW 

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Supporters gathered outside the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’s Party) Madrid headquarters on April 28 after Spaniards went to the polls to elect 350 members of Parliament and 208 senators.

Source Getty Images

What happened? Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) is basking in the glow of victory following yesterday’s elections. He was sworn in by royal decree after a no-confidence motion last summer ousted conservative leader Mariano Rajoy. Now Sánchez has won the highest share of votes (29 percent) in Spain’s latest election — it’s not quite a majority, but it is the party’s first national victory since 2008. With 123 seats under its control, the PSOE will have to form a coalition, likely with anti-austerity leftist party Unidas Podemos and other small parties, in order to reach the 176-seat threshold required to govern.

Why does it matter? The PSOE’s dominance will mean a left-wing Spain. But that’s not the only story from Sunday’s election: The formerly dominant right-wing People’s Party (PP) saw its worst election result ever, losing more than half its seats. Meanwhile, a new far-right party, Vox, made a breakthrough, signaling Spain’s move away from centrism — and toward the far-right and far-left — in a voting public that saw turnout jump 9 percent since the last election in 2016. Meanwhile, the PSOE may still struggle to govern, as there’s major opposition on the left to some of the smaller single-issue parties that could offer crucial, majority-making seats in any coalition. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT 

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A woman wearing a rainbow flag casts her vote as a man holds a folder from far-right party Vox at a polling station in Madrid.

Source Getty Images

Still in charge. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was already in power but was forced to call snap elections, the nation’s third contest in four years, after Parliament rejected his budget proposal in February. It was just the second time that a national budget was voted down — the first time was in 1995 — since the country transitioned to democracy in 1978. The PSOE was hoping to use the budget to increase social spending and reduce inequalities recently exacerbated by austerity policies. But the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties that helped put Sánchez in power abandoned him after he refused to consider another Catalonian independence referendum. The question of Catalonian independence is still top of mind in Spain after a 2017 referendum vote in favor of secession caused chaos in the country and saw the movement’s leaders put on trial for rebellion.

The backlash. Those who oppose Catalonian independence are angry too. Those voters are thought to have been behind the rise of Vox, which opposes any negotiating with secessionists (along with what it calls “radical feminism” and multiculturalism). The far-right has been absent from Spanish politics since the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco, but Vox — backed by other European far-right parties like Italy’s League — will enter Parliament for the first time with 24 seats after winning more than 10 percent of the vote.

A greener future? A week after its budget defeat, the PSOE changed tactics: It rolled out its own version of the U.S. Green New Deal, a $53 billion public investment plan that would tackle climate change. That includes a 90 percent reduction in emissions by the middle of this century and a total switch to renewable energy. Those plans gathered widespread support —  a survey from the European Investment Bank last year found that 87 percent of Spaniards are alarmed about global warming and 70 percent believe climate change is a threat to humanity. Now with a minority government secured, PSOE is likely to form a coalition with far-left Unidas Podemos party and other smaller parties … an alliance that could see Spain become a world leader on climate change.

They persisted. Women won a record 138 seats in Parliament, a 10 percent uptick from the last record high in 2011. Left-wing party Unidas Podemos, born from street protests against crippling austerity measures eight years ago, secured the most seats for women — including Rita Bosaho, who’ll become the first Black member of Spain’s Parliament. 

WHAT TO READ

To Make a Comeback, Europe’s Center-Left Is Leaning … More Left, by Giovanni Legorano in The Wall Street Journal

“Populists of the far left and the far right have made inroads among disillusioned voters with attacks on the establishment, accelerating the collapse of the traditional European center-left.”

Analysis: How Did Sunday’s Elections Change Spain’s Political Landscape? by Carlos E. Cué in El Pais

“It was a disastrous night for the right. The new leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, has led the party to the worst result in its entire history, well below even the most pessimistic forecasts.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Socialists Win Spain Elections

“The election mobilized a huge number of people, with over 75 percent of the electorate voting, including those who support the far-right.” 

Watch on Deutsche Welle on YouTube:

Feminism Spurs Debate in Spain’s Male-Dominated Election

“The rise in feminism isn’t going unchallenged. A counter-movement is gathering pace, fueled by the growing popularity of the far-right Vox Party.” 

Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Fair-weather friends. Eli Hazan, foreign affairs director for Likud, Israel’s ruling party, tweeted support for Vox the day of the election, calling it a “sister party.” But after backlash over Vox’s far-right rhetoric, alleged Islamophobia and even links to Holocaust denial, Hazan deleted the tweet and issued an apology for linking Likud to Vox when the support had been a personal stance rather than a party one.

Why Otherwise Apathetic Bulgaria Is Furious About This Housing Scandal

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An upmarket Sofia neighborhood has become the focus of anti-corruption campaigners who are probing how a group of prominent Bulgarian politicians and state officials were able to purchase luxury apartments at knockdown prices. 

The scandal, dubbed “Apartmentgate,” has infuriated ordinary Bulgarians, who normally shrug off corruption as an inevitable part of life in the European Union’s poorest member state.

“If we’d revealed price fixing in a public procurement project such as a highway, people wouldn’t have taken much notice,” says Nikolay Staykov, co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Fund. “But middle-class Bulgarians struggling to pay a mortgage on a small city apartment are deeply resentful that politicians were able to buy luxury homes so cheaply.”

They were suitable for rich Middle Easterners … way beyond anything a Bulgarian professional could dream of.

Dimitar, Bulgarian software engineer

The U.S.-backed group was the first to expose details of properties acquired at a fraction of the market price by senior members of the ruling GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) party of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The fund’s discoveries were published on its website last month and quickly went viral on social media.

Tsetska Tsacheva, the justice minister, stepped down, while GERB’s powerful Deputy Chairman Tsvetan Tsvetanov resigned his parliamentary seat, plunging the party into turmoil. Two deputy ministers also stepped down. All four had bought luxury apartments in the Iztok neighborhood at cheap prices. The head of the state anti-corruption commission, Plamen Georgiev, who acquired an apartment in another wealthy Sofia neighborhood, allegedly underreported the size of his apartment to the tax authorities. He was told by the premier to take indefinite leave while his case was investigated. The four politicians and Georgiev have all denied wrongdoing.

 

Several senior officials, including judges and a prosecutor and former ministers, in GERB’s right-of-center government were revealed by Bivol, another investigative group, and BTV, a private television channel, to have bought apartments below the market price. Bulgaria’s prosecutor general has launched an official investigation into the purchases. All those involved in these allegations have also denied wrongdoing.

The scandal threatens to scupper GERB’s chances of winning an outright victory in next month’s European parliamentary elections. Borisov has distanced himself, saying he was “furious” over the property purchases. But his approval rating has fallen to 28 percent, according to Alpha Research, a Sofia pollster.

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GERB’s powerful Deputy Chairman Tsvetan Tsvetanov resigned his parliamentary seat, plunging the party into turmoil.

Source NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty

The sheer number of GERB politicians involved and the luxury of their apartments have shocked the public. Property prices are a hot topic among Bulgaria’s new middle class as Sofia experiences a residential building boom driven by strong population growth and a strengthening economy. Moving out of their bleak Communist-era apartment blocks that ring the city center is a priority for many families.

“From what we saw of these buildings on television, they were suitable for rich Middle Easterners …  way beyond anything a Bulgarian professional could dream of,” says Dimitar, a software engineer.

Apartmentgate has also undermined Borisov’s hopes of persuading his EU peers to remove a special monitoring mechanism aimed at reducing corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, which was imposed when the neighbors joined the union in 2007.

Lack of progress in combating graft prevents both Bulgaria and Romania from joining the EU’s Schengen program for visa-free travel in the union. In Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index Bulgaria, Romania and Greece rank lowest among the EU’s 27 members.

“GERB’s image in Europe will suffer even though the government is likely to weather this crisis,” says Mois Faion of the Center for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think tank. “But this [scandal] will not easily be forgotten — it touches every Bulgarian. People can compare their financial capacity directly with that of the top leaders and realize how enormous the gap is.”

Anti-corruption groups are investigating reports by local media alleging that politicians from the Bulgarian Socialist Party also acquired cut-price apartments in upmarket neighborhoods while they were in office.

Stefan, a computer specialist who returned from the U.S. to set up his own company in Sofia, expresses the frustration felt by many Bulgarians. “Something’s wrong with our political system if ministers and judges get access to luxury accommodation without paying the going price. It seems to be a benefit that comes with the job,” he says.

Staykov’s team of investigators uncovered the controversy when they compared figures reported in the annual declarations of personal wealth made by MPs and high state officials with the official register of property purchases in Sofia, and property sales in the Iztok district. In particular, they scrutinized sales made by Arteks Engineering, a high-end Sofia construction company.

“At the very least, accepting the discount was unethical behavior by the politicians,” says Staykov. “It also makes them vulnerable to accusations of capture by special interests. And if the value of the purchase was under-declared, this raises questions about fraud and possible tax evasion.”

The sales took place last year after the government pushed through a law extending building permits that had already expired. These included Arteks’ license to build a luxury tower block in Iztok, which expired in 2016. After the scandal broke, the Sofia authorities this month halted construction of the 34-floor building, claiming building regulations were violated.

Arteks denied wrongdoing. A company statement said: “We are perfectionists in planning and carrying out construction work.… This is why we never needed a push from politicians to help execute our business.… The political allegiance of our clients is not a priority for us.”

When What Happened to Rodney King Changed Everything

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The video had laid it all out. Before social media, it was a hand-to-hand world, so even if you hadn’t seen it on TV screens at the gym or in appliance stores as you strolled by the television display, people were talking about it. Americans were talking about it. Non-Americans were talking about it. And the “it” that they were talking about was a news clip of a collection of cops surrounding and alternatively using a Taser and beating a single motorist. 

“It’s terrible what’s happening in America,” a German journalist friend of mine said to me at the time. “What they do just for driving.”

The motorist, though, was named Rodney King, and the cops who used a Taser on him and then beat him with their batons were named Theodore Briseño, Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Rolando Solano and Timothy Wind. They beat him dozens of times while he lay on the ground or struggled to get off the ground. Twelve minutes of this was caught on video — having video cameras handy was a relatively recent thing then — by a nearby apartment dweller named George Holliday. 

Later it was reported that King had suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken ankle, bruises and lacerations. King went on to claim more specifically that he had brain damage, broken bones and teeth, 11 skull fractures, kidney failure and, unsurprisingly, trauma.

The video of the beating aired repeatedly on news shows, and newspaper coverage tallies showed 43 articles about it in the Los Angeles Times, 17 in The New York Times and 11 in the Chicago Tribune. 

The rioting was in full effect … French Revolution–style. I packed all the guns and ammo away in a gun safe, save one, and left the house with the one.

And certain portions of the worldwide viewing audience breathed a sigh of relief after saying some version of “finally” when the video went global and the cops were arrested.

See, if you were Black, Latino, poor and White, poor and a woman, gay or a punk rocker, you had some idea that cops on the street weren’t like cops on TV shows. They were also not civic functionaries like the folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles. They were typically the front line of most of us having a bad day — unless we were in desperate need of a cop, and there’s a paradox for you — and in the best case, you were walking away with a ticket. In the worst case? You, like King, were not walking away at all. 

Richard Pryor had once done a stand-up bit that had as its refrain, “Cops really put a hurting on your ass.” And for large portions of America, it had just been that: a stand-up bit. But for those on the business end of beatings — particularly noteworthy for “excesses” were police forces under Daryl Gates in Los Angeles and Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia — it was no joke.

 

But after the video hit and the cops were identified and a trial was held, there was a widely held sense that justice would be served and the overstepping cops would be called to account. At 3:15 pm, when the four cops were acquitted after seven days of jury deliberations, it took precisely 30 minutes for a crowd of about 300 to amass at the L.A. County Courthouse to protest, and by 4:15 pm, cognitive dissonance claimed the streets in South Central Los Angeles, and everyone lost their minds.

I was standing in a room surrounded by about $10,000 worth of guns and ammo, all on account of having been a holder of a Federal Firearms License. I was doing inventory and living seven hours north of South Central, but I shook my head at the television buzzing in the corner. The prosecutor figured that everyone on the jury had seen the video so many times that they had gotten desensitized to it. But everyone else hadn’t, and when the jury of nine white folks, one Asian, one Latino and one biracial person didn’t find any one of the cops guilty of anything, that rankled.

I felt something happening that seems particular to riots: All hope or sense of tomorrow as a destination or a possibility disappeared.

So much so that by 6 pm the rioting was in full effect. And not just in Los Angeles. Cities all over had started up too — French Revolution–style. I packed all the guns and ammo away in a gun safe, save one, and left the house with the one. In San Francisco and Oakland, people were also losing their minds, and unlike Los Angeles, where the rioters/protesters were mostly Black and Latino, as it filtered north and into other cities it was more multicultural. But everyone, even those who were somehow cop-aligned, was outraged.

These weren’t the first riots I’d been in. I had been in the New York blackout and no fewer than two punk rock riots, though these were the first I waded into while armed. The first showed how flimsy our civilized veneer is and seemed more about poverty and the latter ones could have been chalked up to youth. But this was different. This was existential and ideological — and those tend to have weight. Especially as they dipped deeply into chaos and the true power of the mob, which sits outside of the law that’s so badly served it.

But I wasn’t there to protest, it felt like. I wasn’t angry enough to protest. I was sad. For us all, a sentiment that Rodney King himself voiced days later when he issued a public plea for peace with the words, “Can’t we all just get along?” I was there in the midst of the cracked glass, graffitied banks and buildings to … witness. While cars were set aflame, fights broke out, cops and citizens were casualties, I wove my motorcycle through downtown San Francisco and felt something happening that seems particular to riots: All hope or sense of tomorrow as a destination or a possibility disappeared.

Or seemed to. The last National Guardsmen didn’t leave Los Angeles until May 27, and the eventual misery tally was high: Fifty-three people were dead, 11,000 had been arrested, 3,767 buildings were burned to the ground and damages were estimated at over $1 billion. Police Chief Daryl Gates had been forced out, the same cops would be charged under federal statutes and subsequently convicted, and Rodney King won a large civil judgment against the city and used the money to start his own construction business. He died from an accidental drowning years later.

Twenty-seven years later, though, post-April 29, post-Ferguson, while the claim could comfortably be made that things are not any better, what’s much truer than ever after that first night of rioting is that there is tomorrow. And if we’re going to live in it, we better make better plans to live in it.

Sports Leagues Bet Big on Winning Gambling Proceeds

Sports betting

As New Jersey’s legislature considered a bill legalizing sports betting last June, Bryan Seeley, the current deputy general counsel for Major League Baseball issued a written statement opposing the proposed law. His first three arguments involved inadequate oversight for professional sports leagues like MLB over the data used by sportsbooks and the types of bets placed. But it was the fourth argument that has since emerged as a lightning rod in the debate over sports betting laws.

MLB asked legislators for the inclusion of an “integrity fee,” insisting that it will now have to devote more resources to ensuring games remain untainted, and so, should be compensated with between 0.25 percent and 1 percent of all handle — the amount of money accepted in wagers — from the state’s sportsbooks, where gamblers place bets.

It was only the first of a series of such lobbying efforts undertaken by MLB and fellow league NBA in at least nine states and Washington, D.C., since the Supreme Court allowed states to legalize sports betting. On the surface, these initiatives oppose sports gambling legalization bills, citing concerns that the sport’s integrity could be tarnished. But in state after state, MLB and the NBA are also demonstrating a keenness to make money off the very sports betting they want to see regulated.

They [MLB and NBA] do not want to leave the sports betting discussion empty-handed.

John Holden, sports betting law expert, Oklahoma State University

In Washington, D.C., MLB lobbyists have distributed a memo among council members calling for sportsbooks to pay 0.25 percent of handle to leagues and purchase official data from the leagues. In Connecticut, a lobbyist for MLB has given testimony on Senate Bill 540, objecting to it because it did not require books to buy official data or pay a percentage of handle to the leagues. The Kansas City Royals have filed a statement with the Kansas legislature supporting House Bill 2752, which includes language that requires sportsbooks to purchase official data and pay a percentage of handle. MLB lobbyists have distributed similar documents in Delaware, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The NBA isn’t far behind. In Connecticut, Dan Spillane, the NBA’s senior vice president of league governance and policy, testified that if an integrity fee provision were removed from the current bill, the NBA would withdraw its support for the bill. In testimony before the New York state legislature, Spillane argued that the NBA and other professional leagues deserve the integrity fee because of the increased cost of keeping their games free from corruption. 

So far, the leagues seem to be on a bigger streak of coming up empty than Chris Davis was during his record-breaking 0-for-46 streak at the plate. None of the eight states that have enacted sports gambling legislation since the Supreme Court decision have acquiesced to league demands. But the leagues have other avenues to earn off sports betting. DraftKings, which MLB owns a significant stake in, has begun operating an online sportsbook in Nevada and New Jersey, the two states where online wagering untethered to a physical sportsbook is currently legal. Any profit that DraftKings rakes in from wagers placed on MLB games will be partially shared by MLB and its franchises. 

 

“I think this is a cash grab,” says John Holden, an assistant law professor at Oklahoma State University who researches on sports betting law. “They [MLB and NBA] do not want to leave the sports betting discussion empty-handed.”

To get an idea of how much money the two leagues are looking to receive, consider New Jersey. There, sportsbooks have done $1.95 billion in handle since June of 2018. Even if MLB and NBA were to each receive the lower quarter of a percentage, that would mean they would get a share of nearly $5 million from those books in that period. That makes it worthwhile to hire lobbyists. MLB paid its in-house lobbyist $1.32 million in 2018-19 to lobby Congress and federal agencies on, among other things, sports gambling. 

But a quarter of a percentage is a pittance compared to the 4 percent integrity fee sports leagues earn from bookmakers in Australia. In the U.K., bookmakers aren’t required to pay leagues an integrity fee. But the English Premier League earns revenue from sportsbooks for the use of its data — much as the American leagues are now demanding.   

For sure, the two leagues are arguing that their lobbying is aimed at ensuring that the sports they govern remain uncorrupted. “If Missouri is going to legalize sports betting, the law has to include rigorous protections to insulate our game from potential corruption,” Josh Alkin, MLB’s vice president of governmental relations said when the state’s legislature introduced a bill earlier this year to pay leagues a 0.25 percent integrity fee. “Nothing is more important to baseball than the trust of our fans.”

But if MLB and NBA are really convinced that legal sports betting is such an ominous threat to their business interests, they have an odd way of showing it.

Later this season, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will play a series in the U.K., where robust legalized sports betting exists, without any of the rules MLB has insisted upon at home. MLB has also made MGM Resorts International its first-ever official gaming partner, complete with a uniform patch on the Oakland Athletics’ jerseys during the season-opening series in Japan earlier this year. The NBA has also signed a sponsorship deal with MGM and has held games in London since the start of the debate over sports gambling legalization.

But why haven’t their lobbying efforts paid off so far? Holden believes their poor pitches are to blame. They’ve failed to lay out specifically how much the increased costs of monitoring the sports would be or explain how exactly the leagues would use the proposed integrity fee. Without that clear picture, Holden says, it’s been difficult to get legislators to either give up a percentage of the taxes the state would take in or require books to give up a percentage of their revenue.

MLB and NBA are also demanding that sportsbooks use their data to set bets and pay the leagues for it. There too, Holden says there’s no proof that unofficial data is in any way inferior to official data and that books naturally will seek out the best source of data on their own. He ventures the opinion that lawmakers have been content to let the market sort itself out in that regard.

Iowa State Sen. Rich Taylor (D-42), who recently helped pass a sports betting bill onto the state House, agrees with Holden. Taylor explains that requiring sportsbooks to buy official data or pay a percentage of their revenue to the leagues is a “hard sell” for him. Taylor sees the financial state of the leagues as already highly profitable and hasn’t seen a need for Iowa or its potential legal sportsbooks to increase that profitability.

Still, it makes sense for the leagues to keep trying, says Holden. “It cannot hurt to keep asking, even if no state has done it yet,” he says, adding that there’s been “minimal” backlash against them so far. “They would almost be foolish not to ask for free money.” 

Holden believes that the leagues stand their best chance at the federal level. MLB, for instance, successfully lobbied for an exemption to federal minimum wage and overtime laws for its minor-league players last year. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced a bill last December that included language requiring sportsbooks to only use official data. If such legislation were to be enacted by the federal government, it’s unlikely leagues like MLB or NBA would dispense that data for free.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. The leagues are for-profit businesses with tremendous connections and resources they can use to try to affect legislation in ways that could increase that profitability. But their success will depend on whether they can improve its pitches. Otherwise, they’ll keep striking out.