Deborah Ramirez’s Allegation Against Brett Kavanaugh Raises Classic Questions of Campus Assault Cases

Deborah Ramirez’s Allegation Against Brett Kavanaugh Raises Classic Questions of Campus Assault Cases

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For much of the past decade, at Harvard Law School, I have welcomed a crop of new law students to campus each fall with an orientation speech warning them that the time for youthful indiscretions is over; it is now the first day of their professional lives. I admonish them not to engage in any conduct that they might later be tempted to lie about to get a job, and note that F.B.I. background checks are routine for lawyers seeking positions of trust. Though I’ve wondered about instilling this level of anxiety in students, many of them will later face scrutiny as public officials.

Perhaps Brett Kavanaugh internalized such a stern professional message, in law school and later, as a religious and conservative lawyer. The current scandal surrounding the Supreme Court nominee involves events that allegedly took place while he was in high school, at Georgetown Prep, and in college, at Yale. On Sunday, The New Yorker reported that, in addition to Christine Blasey Ford—who has accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape during a party in high school, and is set to testify at a hearing on Thursday—a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward with sexual-assault allegations, saying that, in a drinking game at Yale during their freshman year, Kavanaugh put his penis in her face and caused her to touch it without her consent. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

Ramirez’s story has made clear that Kavanaugh’s fate as a Supreme Court nominee may well turn on the questions raised in today’s campus sexual-assault debates. Both Ford and Ramirez’s accounts share many classic elements of campus assault stories, including, most saliently, the role of alcohol. Ford claims that Kavanaugh was “stumbling drunk” when he assaulted her. Ramirez says that she was too drunk to recall aspects of the evening of her alleged assault. In campus cases, alcohol-related memory gaps of the alleged victims, the accused, and witnesses often pose challenges for determining what happened and whether someone is responsible. The difficulty of determining facts has troubled educational institutions. As the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said to USA Today, “What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?”

Remarkably, both Ford and Ramirez’s allegations involve other students who saw, and encouraged, the assaults. Ford identified Kavanaugh’s high-school classmate Mark Judge as alternately laughing and yelling “Go for it” and “Stop” while Kavanaugh attacked her. Judge’s college girlfriend has questioned the credibility of his denial, telling The New Yorker that he had confided in her that he and a group of friends took turns having sex with a drunk woman while at Georgetown Prep. The New Yorker’s interviews of Kavanaugh and Ramirez’s Yale classmates revealed conflicting perceptions of whether the event that she alleged occurred and whether Kavanaugh was responsible. Though it is unusual for sexual assaults to have firsthand witnesses, it is typical for friends to be interviewed in campus assault investigations, and for loyalties and betrayals to both tear friend groups apart and hang over factual recollections. With respect to the Kavanaugh allegations, in deciding what to say, the friends also had reasons for concern about their own reputations, as bystanders or participants; Judge may even have criminal liability as an accomplice to the alleged assault.

Negotiations over the terms of Thursday’s planned hearing have echoed but also torqued the arguments on how to insure that campus procedures provide fairness and produce accuracy. The question of who should investigate the allegations has been especially contentious. In the campus sexual-assault debate, advocates for victims have been skeptical of involving law enforcement—because of its historical neglect of sexual assault, and a general assumption that police often mishandle sexual-assault complaints—and tend to have more faith in university officers and procedures. Ford, Ramirez, and congressional Democrats, however, have so little confidence in the Republican-led Senate-confirmation process that they have called for investigations by the F.B.I. The F.B.I. normally conducts background checks of nominees, as it has of Kavanaugh, so it would be logical for the F.B.I. to continue its work by systematically interviewing all potential witnesses and gathering facts that the Senate would consider. As many observers have noted, this is what happened in 1991, when, after the scheduled hearings for Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation were completed, Anita Hill came forward with her sexual-harassment allegation.

For Ford’s Senate hearing, there has been disagreement over who should question her to draw out and test her story—the all-male Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee or a third-party female lawyer. Ford has insisted on the senators, saying that questioning by an outside lawyer could create a prosecutorial tone. But, in general, victims’ advocates have tended to prefer that questioning of alleged victims be conducted by neutral people, rather than by individuals known to be unfriendly partisans. Here, several Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, including Graham and Orrin Hatch, have publicly expressed their commitment to believing Kavanaugh over Ford, or to confirming him, come what may. And the Senate’s poor record with questioning Hill should cause nervousness about having Republican senators question Ford. In the abstract, it would seem most fair to Ford to have her questioned by a neutral person, but her request to engage with the senators directly should not be denied.

The Kavanaugh allegations also highlight the emerging consciousness on campuses of bystanders’ responsibility. Ford’s lawyers and Senate Democrats have called for Kavanaugh’s alleged witness and accomplice, Mark Judge, to testify. College students now commonly receive training on how to intervene if they see a situation that is fraught with risk, such as a student who is severely drunk at a party accompanying another to a private place. As the #MeToo movement gains momentum, people who are not victims or perpetrators but may know of sexual misconduct have been increasingly criticized for complicity. Kavanaugh himself had to answer questions in his first hearings, earlier this month, about the sexual misconduct of his friend, the former judge Alex Kozinski, for whom he clerked. Surely, Democratic senators alleged, Kavanaugh must have been aware of Kozinski’s behavior. (Kavanaugh denied it.) Expanding bystanders’ liability—even if the consequences are merely reputational, rather than disciplinary or criminal—may complicate the project of finding out the truth of what happened. What Judge and other friends in high school and college saw or knew about Kavanaugh may be obscured by the risks that they know they may bear.

As with sexual-assault hearings at high schools and universities, the emphasis of the Kavanaugh hearing will be less about potential punishment for Kavanaugh or justice for the alleged victims than about the interests and legitimacy of institutions—in this case, the Supreme Court and the Senate. In that context, without orderly safeguards—such as a full professional investigation, familiar rules of evidence, or clear-cut due-process protections for either side—this attempt to determine Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct as a student may feel destabilizing, prurient, and unfair. (We heard the nominee say in a Fox News interview, on Monday night, that he remained a virgin for years after the alleged incidents, which unfortunately could lead to a debate about the truth of that claim at the coming hearing.) But it is giving the public a crash course in what universities face every day in deciding how to hear and evaluate accusations among students, with campus administrators having to know far more details than they might want to about the sexual behavior of the students in their charge.

Perhaps law school is too late for a warning about the future scrutiny of one’s conduct. One of the lessons of Kavanaugh’s nomination has been that public officials may need to answer for their entire history. In his television interview, Kavanaugh said, “I think everyone is judged on their whole life.” The public will judge his alleged behavior, but, perhaps even more confidently, they will judge a loutish culture of drunken fraternities, preppy privilege, and reckless sexism among teen-age boys that we have historically tended to overlook, and for which Kavanaugh has become a timely poster child.

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September 25, 2018 at 07:44PM

Passengers Most Trust Airline Pilots With Midwestern Accents

Passengers Most Trust Airline Pilots With Midwestern Accents

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When a pilot comes over an aircraft loudspeaker, it’s usually to give important flight information to passengers or reassure them about an issue like turbulence.

But, according to a new survey, some pilots’ voices are more trustworthy than others. Specifically, commercial airline passengers have the most confidence in pilots with Upper Midwestern accents — like Wisconsinites or Minnesotans — at the helm of an aircraft. Their counterparts from Texas, however, do not fair so well. Of the 4,207 American flyers surveyed, 65% said that a Texas accent was the least confidence-inspiring in a pilot.

A pilot’s voice, often the only identifying detail passengers have of their cockpit crew, is a major factor in whether flyers trust the person at the flight controls. A majority of passengers surveyed — 54% — said that a pilot’s accent affected their confidence in his or her ability to perform their duties.

The survey was conducted by budget travel site Jetcost. Participants were US passengers who had flown in the past year. They were presented with a range of English-speaking accents and asked which ones would instill the least confidence in their pilots.

Here are the top five most and least confidence-inspiring pilots’ accents:

Least Confidence-Inspiring Pilot Accents:
  1. Texan — 65%
  2. New York — 59%
  3. General American — 54%
  4. Central Canadian — 45%
  5. Southwestern US — 37%
Most Confidence-Inspiring Pilot Accents:
  1. Upper Midwestern — 63%
  2. Southern Californian — 58%
  3. Great Lakes — 51%
  4. British — 47%
  5. Eastern New England — 39%

H/T: LA Times

Featured image by Digital Vision / Getty Images.

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September 25, 2018 at 07:30PM

The Long Decline of DKE, Brett Kavanaugh’s Fraternity at Yale

The Long Decline of DKE, Brett Kavanaugh’s Fraternity at Yale

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Last week, after Christine Blasey Ford went public with an allegation that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in high school, the Yale Daily News published an old photograph that directed scrutiny to the Supreme Court nominee’s college years. In the black-and-white image, two brothers of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity march across Yale’s campus in an initiation rite, one of them carrying a flag fashioned from women’s lingerie. At the time of the shot, Kavanaugh, who does not appear in the image, was a sophomore in the fraternity. Another man who was a member of DKE at the time told the student paper, on Wednesday, that his brothers had obtained the underwear “consensually.” But several female classmates suggested otherwise, saying that members of DKE often attempted to ransack their rooms during class time. “They were loud, entitled, pushy, and creepy,” one alumna tweeted. “They didn’t care what we thought.” On Sunday, the portrait of Kavanaugh’s time at Yale came into sharper focus, when The New Yorker reported that Democrats are investigating a new allegation against him by a college classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who claims that, when they were both Yale freshmen and inebriated at a dorm-room party, Kavanaugh exposed himself and thrust his penis in her face. (Kavanaugh has denied both her allegation and Ford’s.)

DKE, usually pronounced as a single syllable, rhyming with “reek,” was founded at Yale in 1844. It is one of the oldest fraternities in the nation, with chapters on more than fifty college campuses. Since Kavanaugh’s time at Yale (where he also belonged to an all-male secret society, Truth and Courage, which was popularly known as Tit and Clit), the prevalence of Greek life on the campus has declined, but DKE, sometimes described as the “white football frat,” has maintained a reputation for aggressively loutish antics. (“When we had a mixer with them, they didn’t even want to talk to us,” a classmate who is in a sorority told me recently. “They just wanted to pour beers on each other’s heads.”) I am currently a senior at Yale. When my class arrived, in the fall of 2015, DKE was a dormant presence on campus. It operated mostly outside university bounds because of penalties it had incurred after a now infamous incident five years prior, when a pack of pledges thronged the freshman residential quadrangle to shout an initiation chant: “No means yes, yes means anal.” (Also: “Fucking sluts!” and “I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen.”) Soon after, sixteen students and alumnae filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The Yale College Executive Committee convened for months, and then issued a five-year ban on the fraternity, forbidding it from conducting activities on campus or using university e-mail to advertise events. To many students, the length of the sanctions seemed harsh. Yale’s administration generally prefers to adjudicate disciplinary infractions as individual cases rather than holding entire student groups accountable. Jonathan Holloway, who was then the dean of the college, told the Yale Daily News that he hoped a five-year ban at a four-year university could help DKE to “flush institutional memory and culture out.”

In the years since Yale lifted the restrictions on DKE, in 2016, the fraternity has experienced a turbulent return to campus life. In January, Business Insider published detailed accounts from two female undergraduates who alleged that they had been assaulted by DKE brothers. One of the accused was a former president of the fraternity, who, in 2016, told the student paper that DKE members of his generation had “played an important part in the cultural shift” that had occurred since the 2010 incident. (He was eventually expelled from the fraternity and suspended from Yale, for “penetration without consent”; in a statement to the Yale Daily News at the time, he said of the victim, “Though I deny many of the claims made, I respect this person and hope that she can find the same peace that I hope to find.”) Further investigation by the Daily News uncovered eight more women who alleged sexual misconduct by DKE brothers between 2014 and 2017. (None of these women filed formal Title IX complaints.)

As the university prepared an investigation into DKE’s transgressions, the Yale chapter of the fraternity released a set of guidelines designed to foster a “safer and more welcoming environment.” They would deputize co-ed bouncers and so-called sober monitors to maintain safety standards at gatherings. Water coolers would remain filled. Three-second pauses between songs would better allow guests to “avoid uncomfortable interactions.” At the same time, DKE quieted down. Few female sports teams, and fewer sororities, agreed to mix with them. The fraternity refrained from advertising parties, seeming to sense that it might have trouble attracting guests, though it continued to host an annual celebration known as Tang, a raucous and muddy affair held after classes ended each spring. This past year, hundreds of students signalled on Facebook their plans to attend, but similar numbers gravitated toward a rival event hosted by Engender, a student group that advocates for greater inclusion in fraternities. Engender brainstormed a hashtag—#boycottDKE—and sent activists to distribute safety flyers outside the fraternity’s houses. “In the wake of campus conversations about supporting survivors and denouncing sexual misconduct, partying is political,” the group wrote on a Facebook page for the event.

This summer, DKE lost its lease on the pair of buildings it has occupied for more than two decades. The fraternity’s real-estate manager, himself an alumnus of Yale, told the student paper that the decision not to renew was a consequence of years of disruptive behavior and complaints of misconduct. Many current students cheer, and others lament, that “DKE is dead.” (In an e-mail, Doug Lanpher, DKE’s national executive director, told me, “We do not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form. Any member who is found responsible for violating Title IX rules on sexual misconduct is immediately removed from the chapter.”) The demise of DKE on Yale’s campus is just one sign that the “horseplay” typical of fraternity life has become increasingly incompatible with many of the values—safety, equality, and inclusion—toward which most modern universities strive. Many of my peers, though suspicious of DKE, find it no more hostile than other fraternities at Yale. In 2015, for instance, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (since rebranded as Leo), faced accusations of turning away students of color from a party and repeatedly shouting, “White girls only.” That fraternity, much like DKE, had previously been banned from campus as a punishment for violating the university’s sexual-misconduct policy at an initiation ceremony and then trying to impede the resulting investigation.

On Monday, some classes at the Yale Law School were cancelled to allow students to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination. Hundreds of law students travelled to D.C. Others remained in New Haven to mount a local demonstration. For many, the topic feels personal: one of the law school’s top professors, Amy Chua, has been accused of coaching female students on their appearances to help them win clerkships with Kavanaugh. (Chua has called the claims “100% false.”) Her husband and colleague at the law school, Jed Rubenfeld, is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation at Yale, whose details are confidential. (“For some years, I have contended with personal attacks and false allegations in reaction to my writing on difficult and controversial but important topics in the law,” Rubenfeld told the Guardian. “I have reason to suspect I am now facing more of the same.”) By the afternoon, a dozen or so demonstrators still lingered in the law school’s main hall, wearing black as a sign of solidarity and drinking coffee from paper cups. “I would say that this community feels very strongly that Kavanaugh should not be confirmed under these circumstances,” one told me.

Among undergraduates, reactions have been more subdued. “People here grapple constantly with this place’s legacy of untouchable rich white dudes from prep school,” Alexa Derman, a senior, told me. When the news reveals that one such dude “might have been a creep at Yale,” she added, “it doesn’t shatter any illusions.” On Sunday, an open letter from alumnae who stand in support of Ramirez—and Ford—began to circulate online. “We are coming forward as women of Yale because we have a shared experience of the environment that shaped not only Judge Kavanaugh’s life and career, but our own,” it said. During her freshman year, Derman lived one floor above the suite where Ramirez alleges that Kavanaugh exposed himself. “I know the layout of that room,” she said. “It’s really strange. It feels almost so close that I don’t want to touch it. And, obviously, it makes you wonder, What would people say about me? Will people say I’m credible in twenty years, if something happens?” On Sunday, Derman wrote on Twitter that it’s easy to forget, in an “insular” place such as Yale, that, when students who behave badly graduate, “they don’t disappear but instead become part of the fabric of society, & a certain type ascends & ascends.” It’s “been unbearable at times to watch men I know have hurt my friends ascend within clubs to leadership,” she continued, adding, “How will we feel seeing which of them rise in their fields, our fields, invincible & untouchable?”

Brett Kavanaugh, like many men of his generation, is a product of an era in which fraternities were incubators of ambition. Five American Presidents, including the Yale alumni George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, once belonged to DKE. (In the satirical biopic “W.,” about the life of the younger Bush, the head of the fraternity is shown telling incoming freshmen, during a beer-drenched initiation ritual, “Delta Kappa brothers are men of honor, decency, and God-given character. That, along with our family fortunes, is why we rule the world.”) This reality, too, may be changing. Two years ago, Harvard made the historic and controversial decision to penalize single-gender social clubs and Greek organizations by banning their members from serving as the captains of athletic teams, leading official student groups, or receiving the university’s endorsement for top postgraduate fellowships such as the Marshall and Rhodes. Yale’s college dean, Marvin Chun, has established a committee to advise him on the regulation of campus social life, but has so far taken no similar steps. (“We have students who say we should be like Harvard, and we have many students who say we should not be like Harvard,” Chun told the Yale Daily News, earlier this year. “I have not formed an opinion strongly. I’m in listening mode.” In an e-mail on Tuesday, Chun told me, “We haven’t reached any decisions regarding Yale’s policies.”) Some of my classmates who are in DKE, particularly the seniors, now distance themselves from the fraternity, admitting that being a member is a “bad look.” It is not hard to imagine a future in which membership in such a community—even one that purports to champion, as DKE does, “the gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good fellow”—is not an asset but a liability. We will find out this week, as the Kavanaugh hearings proceed, how near that future might be.

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September 25, 2018 at 07:01PM

Square Feet: Capital of Laos Seeks Stronger Ties to China

Square Feet: Capital of Laos Seeks Stronger Ties to China

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VIENTIANE, Laos — Two decades ago, this sleepy city on the Mekong River was just starting to pave its streets.

Today, Vientiane, the Laotian capital, is abuzz with change. Cars choke the paved city streets, and the downtown area is brimming with cafes, restaurants and bars catering to the small but growing middle class.

In recent years, Chinese investment in resource-rich Laos has strengthened the country’s economy, which is projected to grow by 7 percent this year. Vientiane’s hot property market reflects this trend. Hoping that China’s Belt and Road Initiative will improve connectivity with its neighbor, Laos is preparing for a new wave of Chinese investment in its property sector.

Crucial to these hopes is a 260-mile, $5 billion rail line that Beijing seeks to extend through Laos to Thailand, a much larger market.

The completion of the rail line will bring a major change to the city, connecting landlocked Laos to China’s extensive rail network, which will bring tourism and property investment, said Tony Saiyalath, managing director at RentsBuy, a property company based in Vientiane.

“That will bring the property market alive,” he said. “Even right now, people are starting to buy — they already know the locations of where the stations are.”

The increase in Chinese investment is thanks in part to a new policy of “transforming assets into capital,” which Laos’s government introduced five years ago. Under the policy, state-owned property can be privatized to attract foreign investment. The plan was especially appealing to Chinese investors, who acquired most of the high-end property in Vientiane. Prices went up sharply in 2014, but have stabilized, while rents have dropped by 20 to 30 percent since 2016, partly because Chinese mining companies have reduced their Laos operations after concessions expired.

Image
Chinese workers at the entrance to a tunnel near Vang Vieng, Laos, which is part of a railway project from China to Laos.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

Chinese businessmen are the dominant property investors in Vientiane, along with a mix of Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai investors, Mr. Saiyalath said. Chinese companies are also players in the largest property developments in the city. This is apparent on the east end of downtown Vientiane’s riverside, where the Laotian and French colonial architecture yields to a mile-long stretch of prime real estate developed by the Camce Investment (Lao) Company, a joint venture between China CAMC Engineering and the Laotian construction company Krittaphong Group. With its investment, Camce is aiming to draw wealthy locals and foreigners.

The Landmark compound on the east end of the Camce development combines high-end residential, hotel, restaurant and event spaces to create an exclusive, gated community. Landmark Diplomatic Residence offers luxury apartments for rent only, from $1,000 to $2,200 a month, said Neo Liang, a Chinese manager at Camce’s marketing office. Next door, offering unobstructed views of the Mekong River and Thailand on the other side, is the five-star Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel, where President Barack Obama stayed in the presidential suite during his visit to Laos in 2016.

Farther upstream, ASEM Villa features 50 fully furnished and decorated “mansion villas” for rent, starting at $4,500 a month. Mr. Liang said the gated community was more than 90 percent occupied, with a variety of tenants.

“They’re from all over — Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Singaporeans,” he said.

A visit to ASEM Villa showed a strong presence by Chinese state-owned companies, including China Railway Group, which is building the rail line to Vientiane, and PowerChina, which has numerous projects of its own and via subsidiaries throughout Laos. Other offices with Chinese tenants included a Belt and Road information center and a Chinese culture center. The Singaporean ambassador’s residence and the European Union’s office for Laos are also there.

The area includes another five-star hotel, the Don Chan Palace. At 14 floors, it is the country’s tallest. Like the Landmark compound, Don Chan Palace also has a large banquet hall and convention center. On a recent visit, the lobbies of both hotels were primarily populated by Chinese businessmen.

Vientiane New World, an outdoor mall on the development’s west end, is Camce’s most public-facing development. It features a small office building for the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — whose advertisements flutter on lampposts downtown — and a “walking street” with restaurants, cafes, shops and a beer garden.

Chinese businesses are featured prominently at Vientiane New World, with regional Chinese restaurants offering cuisine from Liaoning and Shandong provinces, as well as Old Chengdu, a high-end Sichuanese restaurant where several dishes cost upward of $100 — a month’s rent for the average Vientiane resident.

Chinese expatriates and tourists are not the only diners to be found at these restaurants, however. For middle-class and wealthier Laotians, dining at a Chinese restaurant is a sign of sophistication and worldliness.

On weekend nights, Vientiane New World’s beer garden is filled with young Laotians eating and drinking at dozens of tiny open-air bars and restaurants, typically constructed with corrugated metal. Offering a relatively upscale alternative to the night markets farther down the riverside, each establishment’s music competes with that of the neighbors.

Camce’s riverside investment is but one Chinese project transforming the city. Shanghai Wanfeng has invested $300 million of a projected $5 billion total in That Luang Lake, which has just begun its second of four phases that are scheduled for completion in 2032. Of the 11 buildings already built, four condominiums are selling units, Mr. Saiyalath said. Two more buildings — a hotel and serviced apartments — are also preparing to open.

The project is in an economic zone, where foreign investors can buy condominiums. Mr. Saiyalath said he hoped the government would adopt a new law to allow foreigners to own condominiums outside of economic zones. In Cambodia, which has such a law, foreign money, especially Chinese, has flooded the property market.

“Once this law is in place, foreigners will be more confident to invest here,” he said. “Look at Cambodia. Our country needs to be developed quickly.”

China is prioritizing Laos in its Belt and Road investment push. Last November, President Xi Jinping of China and Bounnhang Vorachith, his counterpart in Laos, oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding to deepen cooperation through a new Laos-China economic corridor.

“China sees Laos as providing a pathway for rail and road connectivity into Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan policy research center in Washington. Thailand’s military leaders have dragged their feet on the rail line between Bangkok and Vientiane that they originally said would be completed in March. Thailand’s transport ministry now projects the line to be completed by 2023, at the earliest.

“The fate of the rail connection from Vientiane to Bangkok is uncertain,” Mr. Eyler said, “which means China’s big Belt and Rail push into Southeast Asia could end inside of landlocked Laos.”

Thailand is wary of getting too close to China, while the Laotian government has been keen to tap into easy Chinese money, said George McLeod, a consultant based in Bangkok.

“Thailand’s low-end manufacturing sector has already been gutted by Chinese competition, and the leadership is acutely aware that closer ties would take a further toll on their economy,” Mr. McLeod said. “Laos is even more susceptible to becoming an unequal partner — it has a tiny population of under seven million and lies directly on China’s southern border with no buffer in between.”

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September 25, 2018 at 06:45PM

New Jersey Lawmakers Threaten United with New Fuel Tax at Newark Airport

New Jersey Lawmakers Threaten United with New Fuel Tax at Newark Airport

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New Jersey lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a jet-fuel tax that would force United Continental Holdings Inc. to pay for expanded passenger rail at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Airlines are exempt from the state’s gross-receipts tax on petroleum products, with the exception of the fuel used during taxiing and take-off. A bill approved by the Senate budget committee would change that by taxing all the fuel used by companies that carrying at least 8 million passengers annually. The proceeds would pay for a train service operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Chicago-based United is the only operator large enough to be affected, with 14.6 million passengers boarding at Newark annually, according to its website.

The bill must be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor to become law. New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled legislature in June approved a $37.4 billion budget that raised or placed new taxes on corporations, those with incomes exceeding $5 million and companies that provide car-sharing services and liquid nicotine. Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who took office in January, signed the budget.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Elise Young from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: Lawmakers in New Jersey want to raise taxes on United for fuel. Pictured is a United jet landing at Newark. Bloomberg

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September 25, 2018 at 06:36PM

Major Retailers Want the Right to Reject Premium Rewards Cards

Major Retailers Want the Right to Reject Premium Rewards Cards

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Several big-box and online retailers have just dropped a bombshell: They want to be able to keep you from using certain rewards credit cards at their stores.

This, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported Tuesday that major retailers including Amazon, Target and Home Depot are trying to end a rule that requires that any merchant that accepts Mastercard- or Visa-branded credit cards takes them all.

“If merchants could pick and choose among Visa or Mastercard credit cards, those with the highest merchant fees — and most generous rewards — likely would be on the chopping block,” the Journal wrote. Chase Sapphire Reserve? Nah. Chase Slate? Sure. You get the implication.

The news comes in the wake of the announced $6.2 billion settlement Mastercard and Visa reached last week with retailers across the country that had sued the credit card companies, accusing them of fixing prices on card swipe fees to benefit the banks. Those fees, charged to retailers on every card transaction, help finance credit card awards, but retailers have bitterly complained that they cut into their profits and provide them no benefit — and they get little say in setting them. Amazon, Target and Home Depot are likely to opt out of the settlement and pursue a strategy to end the so-called “honor all cards,” rule, according to the Journal.

This card acceptance rule is “part of a non-negotiable contract merchants sign when selecting to accept a card brand,” according to the Minneapolis-based Merchant Advisory Group. “These rules are enforced through network fines, which can start at up to $5,000 a day.”

This means retailers have to accept both the 1.2% to 1.7% swipe fees on nonpremium cards, as well as the fees Visa and Mastercard premium credit cards charge, “often north of 2.1% of the purchase amount,” the Journal said. Merchants are simply trying to gain the “right to negotiate the terms of acceptance,” according to the lead lawyer for a group of merchants suing Visa and Mastercard to end the honor all cards rule.

Meanwhile, American Express, which has lower acceptance rates than the other card networks, announced earlier this year it would cut its fees in an effort to attract more merchants. The company told the Journal “that on average the current cost of accepting Amex is about the same as Visa and Mastercard.”

Featured image by John Gress / Corbis / Getty Images

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September 25, 2018 at 06:30PM

AT&T Just Made It Possible to Work Remotely on Your Cross-Country RV Trip

AT&T Just Made It Possible to Work Remotely on Your Cross-Country RV Trip

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Here’s the dilemma: You want to see the country, but you’re struggling to figure out how you’ll stay connected enough to accomplish what’s needed on the job front. Two curious bedfellows, AT&T and Airstream, have come together to create a plan that not only solves that, but opens up loads of new potential for cross-country RV dreams to become reality.

On 2019 model Airstream Classic travel trailers, AT&T is serving up 4G LTE connectivity for $360 per year. For unlimited data. Of course, this particular camper starts at a cool $150,000, which makes it relevant for a seriously narrow slice of the population. The real magic will come shortly, when AT&T and Airstream launch an aftermarket solution for other RVs later this year.

It’s not yet clear what the purchase stipulations for that solution will be, but AT&T confirmed to FierceWireless that the Airstream Connect service “is not subject to the data restriction applied to many of the operator’s other unlimited services.” Even AT&T’s “unlimited” smartphone plans contain fine print that allow the carrier to throttle your data after exceeding 22GB per month, which is easy to do if it’s your primary internet connection.

Having a truly uncapped connection on the road is an enormous perk for those seeking to dedicate months upon months to crisscrossing the United States, exploring its remarkable national parks, and maintaining a connection all the while. (And, if you’re planning to do precisely this, make sure you grab a National Park annual pass to save some serious cash.)

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September 25, 2018 at 06:04PM

Scotch “Atomic” Hook-Loop Helmet Headlamp Mount

Scotch “Atomic” Hook-Loop Helmet Headlamp Mount

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson’s backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou’s passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing — along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about

ski touring

and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the

Fourteeners

! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

We include “affiliate sales” links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display “banner” advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control — we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional “sponsored” post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other “sponsored content” you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website’s information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

Travel

via – The Backcountry Ski Touring Blog https://ift.tt/Wv7m0S

September 25, 2018 at 05:56PM

Catch Me If You Can: Hotel ‘Breakfast Bandit’ Runs Wild in Georgia

Catch Me If You Can: Hotel ‘Breakfast Bandit’ Runs Wild in Georgia

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Hey Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton — you might want to keep an eye on your omelette stations, especially if you have properties near Dalton, Georgia.

Police are currently searching for a man who’s been bopping into hotels and stealing from their breakfast spreads. He’s also been picking up plastic silverware and towels along the way, too.

He’s had his eye on the Holiday Inn Express in particular, which is known for its breakfast, according to front office manager Cecy Lagunas. A few days later, he waltzed into a Quality Inn, and then a Super 8. In fact, he even told a staff member at the Holiday Inn Express that he was “just checking how easy it is to get into hotels and get free stuff.” He went so far as to tell the clerk at Super 8 that he left his phone in a room and needed to get it back, presumably as a cover. It sounds to us like he knows what he’s doing is wrong, but doesn’t exactly care.

Don’t get me wrong: A good hotel breakfast buffet is my jam. But that’s the best part of actually staying in a hotel, with the operative phrase here being, you know, “staying in a hotel.” Don’t try this one at home, kids.

Featured Image courtesy of Getty.

Travel

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September 25, 2018 at 05:34PM