Oct 8, 2019

The NBA steps on a live grenade.

The NBA steps on a live grenade.

Plus, a Trump cover up develops and the Joshua Brown story.

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Politics collided with the NBA, Trump stonewalls an investigation and a look into the murder after the murder in the Botham Jean case.

Photo: Keith Ellison, Wikimedia Commons

First up.

The Trump administration has directed a top American diplomat involved in the Ukraine scandal to not appear for his scheduled hearing in front of the House of Representatives. Ambassador Gordon Sondland was blocked from testifying before Congress by the State Department, a decision his lawyer said he cannot push back on (Sondland has to take orders from the State Department). Democrats are already saying the move amounts to obstruction of justice and are raising questions about what Sondland knows that the administration is trying to cover up. Sondland’s name first came to prominence when his texts appeared in transcripts released last week. In one exchange, he told another U.S. diplomat to call him after that diplomat said he thought it was “crazy” to withhold security clearance in exchange for help in a political campaign. Many interpreted that moment as Sondland trying to cover his tracks. Click.

What D.C. is talking about.

The NBA. Over the weekend, Houston Rockets’ general manager set off a firestorm by tweeting out his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. His tweet was an image that said, "Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong" (if you need a refresher on what’s happening in China, you can read Tangle’s coverage here). Daryl Morey, the GM of the Rockets, quickly deleted his tweet and the owner of the Rockets immediately apologized. But it was too late. Chinese partners cut off their ties with the Rockets, the biggest relationship between China and any NBA team in the league. Tencent Holdings also suspended its streaming of the Houston Rockets, a shocking move just months after it coughed up billions of dollars to extend a deal with the NBA. 500 million people watched the NBA on Tencent in China last year, more than the entire population of the United States. China’s state television station said it was canceling its plans to air NBA preseason games. The NBA reacted to the news by quickly apologizing to China and its fans, realizing it had just put millions of dollars in peril. The Chinese Basketball Association also canceled its ties with the NBA, another stunning move considering Yao Ming — the league president — became a global sensation during his time with the Rockets. His legacy is why the Rockets are the most popular team in China.

What Republicans are saying.

Stand up and fight. NBA players who the left lauds as courageous social justice warriors and unafraid of any political blowback are now cowering to China? To a country that restricts the freedom of its people and has effectively imprisoned millions of Muslims? It’s the ultimate hypocrisy. The league has stood staunchly by its players when they trash conservatives and Trump, claiming to be so progressive and player-first that everyone is entitled to their own voice. But now, with the bottom line on the table, the NBA is backing down and letting a country like China walk all over it. Even worse, it wasn’t like Morey was trashing China. He was legitimately just sending out a pro-democracy tweet, and the NBA left him out to dry and sided with the money. Even Steve Kerr, who has been elevated as some kind of hero of truth in the era of Trump, played coy when asked about the issue. Kerr said “it’s a really bizarre international story and a lot of us don’t know what to make of it… What I’ve found is it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on and I’ve found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category.” Kerr said his brother was a Chinese history professor and he emailed him to ask what he should be learning about. But it’s hard to believe Kerr — who grew up going to an international school and whose father was killed in an act of political violence — doesn’t know enough about China to know that it’s literally a totalitarian regime.

What Democrats are saying.

Depends which Democrats. None are going to step out on a limb to defend China, and many have stepped in line to criticize the NBA. Just as frequently, though, they are pointing the hypocrisy finger right back at Republicans. When Marco Rubio criticized the NBA, he was quickly drowned in criticism. The day before he had defended Trump after the president called on China to investigate Biden — now he was suddenly very serious about China? Speaking of Trump: he literally just congratulated China on 70 years of communist rule. He’s heaped praise on President Xi Jinping and went as far as saying Xi was “great” for changing China’s rules so he could be president for life.  Also, all these Republicans who dogpiled Colin Kaepernick for getting involved in politics as an athlete are suddenly clamoring for NBA players and execs to get involved in politics. Can anyone pick a side and stick to it with some consistency?

My take.

This is a very bad look for the NBA. I’m a big basketball fan and a big Brooklyn Nets fan. Seeing Joe Tsai, their Taiwanese-born owner, dive in and defend China (calling pro-democracy activists “a separatist movement”) is deeply disturbing. Seeing Steve Kerr, one of the “coolest” coaches in all of basketball, so obviously dodge a question and cower to the profits is deeply deflating. The deafening silence from LeBron James, Gregg Popovich, etc. is just weak beyond words. I often caution my friends when they speak about Russia, Iran, China, or any other American “adversary” to be careful distinguishing between a nation’s leaders and a nation’s people. I have Russian heritage and close friends with Iranian and Chinese backgrounds. I’m not some inherently bad person and neither are they.

But the Chinese government is not something Americans should be afraid to criticize. Why is the Chinese government bad? It can detain people without trial for up to six months in a system called “liuzhi.” Top officials frequently disappear. It controls religious and ethnic freedoms and has carried out mass detention and torture of various groups of Muslims. Advocates for human rights and democracy are frequently imprisoned. The government controls the internet, mass media, academia and pushes propaganda on national television. Now it’s using state of the art technology to collect biometric data and voice samples to automate surveillance of its citizens, and it’s selling that tech to smaller countries across the world. This is just the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about China from the Human Rights Watch here.

More related to this, Hong Kongers’ protests in China started after an extradition bill was proposed that would have allowed critics of the Chinese regime to be extradited there for punishment. Millions of people poured into the street to try to stop the bill from moving forward, knowing full well what it meant for their freedom. China responded by infiltrating Hong Kong and pressuring the Hong Kong government to forcefully shut down protests. It also tried to smoke out anyone in mainland China who supported the protesters.

And most concerning of all is that China is powerful. As we can see with the NBA, it’s learning to use its market power — 1.5 billion consumers — to pressure Americans into shutting up about these abuses. It got the biggest three airlines in the U.S. — American, Delta and United — to scrub references to Taiwan as its own country. It got the Marriot to apologize to China by shutting down its website for listing Hong Kong as a separate country. It’s gotten Hollywood to change content under the threat that it wouldn’t allow that content in Chinese theaters.

The appropriate response, to all of this, actually came from an unusual moral compass: South Park. Just as this NBA controversy exploded, South Park was erased from major platforms in China for making fun of the way China censures people and propagandizes its population. As the NBA mangled its response to similar censorship, South Park’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued a fake apology: “Like the N.B.A., we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the tongue-in-cheek statement read. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all.”

This is the way forward. Do not bend to China’s market power and do not allow a government so obviously willing to oppress its people force powerful American businesses and executives into kowtowing garbage political lines.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Regarding the killing of Joshua Brown...we've got the mayor of Dallas telling people to "refrain from speculation", and the Dallas Police Department saying they are investigating the shooting, but haven't identified a suspect or motive. This situation is bizarre and devastating. "Speculations" aside, a federal investigation is warranted, right?
- Trent, Seattle, WA

Tangle: For those of you who aren’t caught up, a quick summary: Last week, I told you about Botham Jean, the African-American man who was killed in his apartment by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the shooting, which she says was a result of her walking into the wrong apartment and believing she was confronting Jean, an intruder. Guyger testified that she gave several verbal commands to Jean that he ignored before she shot him (one imagines most people would ignore verbal commands given to them in their own apartment). Still, Guyger’s testimony that she tried to diffuse what she thought was a burglary was crucial to her defense. Enter Joshua Brown.

Brown was Jean’s neighbor. He was out that night watching football, and came home as the shooting unfolded. Brown claimed he heard “the mixing of voices” and no such commands in his testimony. Then the gunshots rang out. He also testified that he saw Guyger on the phone and crying after the shooting, explaining that she thought she was in her own apartment. Several sources around Brown said he was resistant to the idea of testifying because he thought it would put him in danger. Now people are convinced that fear was well-founded: Brown was shot twice and killed outside the new apartment he had moved into after Botham Jean’s killing. Immediately, speculation erupted that the Dallas Police Department was implicated in the shooting. People saw it as a clear retaliation for Brown testifying. It doesn’t help that Guyger and her partner apparently exchanged racist text messages and deleted others before Guyger killed Jean, all adding to the idea that the Dallas PD would punish Brown for his testimony.

Naturally, the real story is a bit more complicated. Brown himself was involved in another shooting after Jean’s death where another man was killed. Brown was shot in the foot outside of a strip club. At the time, and since that shooting, Brown has said he believed he was the true target of the altercation. That’s part of the reason he didn’t want to testify: he thought the exposure of the case would bring him too much attention. "Josh Brown expressed concerns about the exposure he would get from this trial and expressed concerns for his safety," S. Lee Merritt, who represented Jean and is now the lawyer for Brown’s family, told the Today show. "A lot of people believe, including himself, apparently, that he was the target of that shooting, and he was afraid somebody might come and try to finish the job.”

So far, there is little evidence around the case besides the fact witnesses saw a silver sedan speed away after the shooting. I’m not going to speculate on what happened here without more information, but I will say two things: One, whoever shot Brown in the foot a few months ago should clearly be the top suspect here. Brown and his lawyer both believed he was in danger and that the people in that altercation really wanted to kill him. That is obviously significant enough to pursue. Two, we absolutely cannot dismiss the idea that the Dallas Police Department could have avenged Guyger. Though it’s little more than a “conspiracy theory” for now, there is plenty of context — like 100 years of history, the text messages in this case or the Ferguson activists who keep showing up dead in trunks — that set a precedent for police departments punishing witnesses.

All that being said, I don’t see how the Dallas Police Department or any other local entity could investigate this murder and come away with something that will satisfy the public. There is no trust between the Dallas PD and the public after this trial, and plenty of people have already made up their minds that the Dallas PD is somehow involved in this killing. So to answer your question: Yes, I think a federal investigation is warranted.

Warren microscope.

Yesterday, the right-wing website Free Beacon published an article it claimed “debunked” one of Elizabeth Warren’s most commonly used stump speeches: that she was “shown the door” from her job as a teacher when she became visibly pregnant. The story Warren tells is both the origin story of how she got into law and a personal tale of what it’s like being a woman in the workforce. Free Beacon used the meeting minutes from a Board of Education meeting where Warren worked that showed the board accepted her resignation “with regret.” Speculation about the veracity of Warren’s story started after a reporter at Jacobin, a far-left socialist magazine, pointed out that in a 2007 interview Warren told a slightly different story: "I worked in a public school system with the children with disabilities. I did that for a year, and then that summer I didn't have the education courses, so I was on an 'emergency certificate,' it was called," Warren said in 2007. "I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, 'I don't think this is going to work out for me.' I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years."

Warren’s campaign is standing by the story, and a CBS News break down of the Free Beacon piece tries to unravel the tangle of the story.

"All I know is I was 22 years old, I was 6 months pregnant, and the job that I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else,” Warren told CBS News. “The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job.” She also said her story changed from 2007 because she decided to “open up” about her past when she became a public figure. The story comes not long after Warren overcame the Native American ancestry story that plagued her early campaign. Warren long claimed she had Native American roots and even took a DNA test to prove it. But the test revealed that she had very limited amounts of Native American ancestry. Then she consequently apologized to Native American groups for calling herself Native American. The president and his supporters have taken the offensive course of calling her “Pocahontas” to mock those claims. You can read more about her claims she was “shown the door” for being pregnant here.


I’m asked almost every day whether I think Trump will be impeached. I’ve never thought the odds were higher than they are right now (remember: impeachment is not the same as being removed from office).

A story that matters.

The Supreme Court is back. Today, justices are hearing “a set of cases testing whether the federal law that bars sex discrimination in employment applies to LGBTQ employees,” according to NPR. The court will determine whether employers are allowed to fire people because they are gay or transgender. Also on the docket this term: the right to abortion, whether gun rights extend outside the home, how separate church and state should be, whether a president is immune from certain investigations. All these cases could see rulings this year. You can read more here.

Have a nice day.

If you’ve ever read about ocean pollution, you’ve probably heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a huge island of trash, three times the size of France (and growing) out in the Pacific Ocean. The trash comes together thanks to the ocean’s natural movements and currents. But this week, the Ocean Cleanup Project reached the GPGP with its own giant floating boom that collects the trash in the ocean. The boom is an invention of the project, about 2,000 feet long, a self-contained catch system that can pick up microplastics as small as 1mm in size. It’s the first successful ocean clean-up project that could put a dent in the patch, and the founders say they hope to collect 50 percent of it in five years and 90 percent by 2040. You can read more here.

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