By Robert A. Vella
These are strange times we’re living in. The following four stories in the news today are as bizarre as they are eclectic. If I had been in a coma for the last 3-4 decades and woke up this Sunday morning to read this post, I’d probably think it was all some sort of lingering nightmare or confused hallucination. Yet, it is all too real.
WASHINGTON — In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find.
Which was how the Pentagon wanted it.
For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times. It was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze.
The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.
The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
The program collected video and audio recordings of reported U.F.O. incidents, including footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves. The Navy pilots can be heard trying to understand what they are seeing. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one exclaims. Defense officials declined to release the location and date of the incident.
“Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue,” Mr. Bigelow said in an interview. “Our scientists are scared of being ostracized, and our media is scared of the stigma. China and Russia are much more open and work on this with huge organizations within their countries. Smaller countries like Belgium, France, England and South American countries like Chile are more open, too. They are proactive and willing to discuss this topic, rather than being held back by a juvenile taboo.”
After two years of painstaking investigation, David Schiller and the rest of the Drug Enforcement Administration team he supervised were ready to move on the biggest opioid distribution case in U.S. history.
The team, based out of the DEA’s Denver field division, had been examining the operations of the nation’s largest drug company, McKesson Corp. By 2014, investigators said they could show that the company had failed to report suspicious orders involving millions of highly addictive painkillers sent to drugstores from Sacramento, Calif., to Lakeland, Fla. Some of those went to corrupt pharmacies that supplied drug rings.
The investigators were ready to come down hard on the fifth-largest public corporation in America, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.”
Schiller and members of his team wanted to fine the company more than $1 billion. More than anything else, they wanted to bring the first-ever criminal case against a drug distribution company, maybe even walk an executive in handcuffs out of McKesson’s towering San Francisco headquarters to send a message to the rest of the industry.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, top attorneys at the DEA and the Justice Department struck a deal earlier this year with the corporation and its powerful lawyers, an agreement that was far more lenient than the field division wanted, according to interviews and internal government documents. Although the agents and investigators said they had plenty of evidence and wanted criminal charges, they were unable to convince the U.S. attorney in Denver that they had enough to bring a case.
Republicans, confident they’ve found the votes to pass a massive tax overhaul, entered the next phase of their effort Sunday, attempting to sell the plan to a public that polling suggests is deeply skeptical.
GOP leaders argued that the tax bill — the final version of which was unveiled Friday — is aimed primarily at helping the middle class, brushing aside nonpartisan analyses that show the bulk of the legislation’s benefits would go to the wealthy and to corporations.
Americans have been skeptical of the promises the GOP is making about the bill. Polling has consistently found approval ratings for the bill at below 35 percent, and a CBS poll from last week found that 76 percent of Americans believe its biggest benefits will go to the largest corporations.
Further reading: The Winners and Losers in the Tax Bill
For two months now, as accusations of sexual misconduct have piled up against Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced mogul has responded over and over again: “Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied.”
Consent is a concept central to law on sexual assault, and will likely be an issue in potential legal cases against Weinstein, who is under investigation by police in four cities, and others accused in the current so-called “reckoning.”
But the definition is a matter of intense debate: Is it a definite “yes,” or the mere absence of “no”? Can it be revoked? Do power dynamics come into play? And legally, the definition varies state by state.
“Half the states don’t even have a definition of consent,” says Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law who’s involved in a project to rewrite a model penal code on sex assault. “One person’s idea of consent is that no one is screaming or crying. Another person’s idea of consent is someone saying, ‘Yes, I want to do this.’ And in between, of course, is an enormous spectrum of behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, that people engage in to communicate desire or lack of desire.”
“It’s pretty telling,” Murphy adds, “that the critical thing most people look to understand the nature of a sexual encounter — this idea of consent — is one that we don’t even have a consensus definition of in our society.”